March 8, 1999

New Age guru “Rama” Frederick Lenz can still turn a buck, even from beyond the grave. Followers of Lenz, who killed himself amid allegations that he was taking advantage of his followers both sexually and financially, claim on their Website that their campaign to raise $50,000 to publicize the Rama’s novels Surfing the Himalayas and Snowboarding to Nirvana was a success. They have already used some of the money to launch an enormous ad campaign on the city’s subways, but some believe that dead gurus should tell no tales – most notably, Lenz’s editors at St. Martin’s Press. “The whole thing is kind of creepy,” says one St. Martin’s editor, who insists that the publishing house has nothing to do with the ads. “Actually, we were a little relieved to have him out of our hair.” The editor of the novels, Jim Fitzgerald, is also not enthusiastic about a Rama resurrection. “He keeps coming back up like bad Mexican food,” says Fitzgerald – who’s now an agent peddling the writings of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a.k.a. “Osho,” the late Indian sex-and-enlightenment guru who collected 93 Rolls-Royces and 4,000 followers in Oregon before being deported for immigration fraud.

Can the buzz over Hillary Rodham Clinton’s flirtation with a Senate bid be ratcheted up any higher? Here’s a try. It turns out that after the First Lady speaks at the Democratic Women’s Leadership Forum luncheon on Wednesday, she’ll be going over to the Upper East Side townhouse of financier Roger Altman for a powwow with the money people. It’s all very hush-hush, and Altman did not return calls, but the word is that Hillary will be meeting informally with a dozen or so of the city’s biggest Democratic donors. “She’s expanding her tentacles, and why not,” theorizes one longtime Democratic fund-raiser. Expanding indeed: Altman’s the head of an investment group that just bought the supermarket tabloids The National Enquirer and The Star. Maybe he can steal Dick Morris away from the Post.

Two of the rap world’s top stars are looking to expand their horizons. Nineteen-year-old rapper Foxy Brown became so chummy with recovering fashion victim Kate Moss at a recent W magazine photo shoot that Moss furiously lobbied to get Brown a spot next to her on the runway at last week’s Versace show in Milan. Her efforts were apparently unsuccessful. A Versace spokesperson sniffs that the fashion house prefers to confine its celebs to the front row rather than the catwalk. But Brown seems to be having better luck in Hollywood, where the tantrum-prone rapper is being considered for a part in an upcoming John Singleton movie. Meanwhile, rapper Heavy D’s acting career is also picking up steam. Heavy’s taken on the role of a grave digger in Eddie Murphy’s Life, and he’s playing Peaches, a migrant apple picker, in director Lasse Hollström’s film adaptation of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules. The parts are small, but the roly-poly rap star says he’s happy to learn acting by “just sitting in the corner soaking everything up … I’ll be one of the great ones,” he says.

The spirit of ‘69 has returned to Woodstock, even if it took a few attorneys to channel it. After playing with The Band at Woodstock’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 1994, bassist Rob Wasserman sued the promoters of the event for $10 million, claiming their negligence had caused him to trip over a rope backstage and break his arm. The injury laid the musician up for almost four months, forcing him to cancel an already-booked tour to promote Trios, a critically lauded CD that subsequently tanked in the stores. Wasserman’s suit also alleged “emotional distress” – a claim that typically allows a plaintiff’s psychiatric records into evidence. A settlement was reached last month, just as the case was preparing to go to trial. It was “amicably resolved,” says Woodstock lawyer Alexander Drago. “Rob Wasserman was very satisfied with the settlement,” says his attorney, Lee Bantle.

CAPE AND DAGGER: As crime statistics fall, it stands to reason that the city’s burglars have to become more discriminating. At least that’s one conclusion to be drawn from the recent experience of London Sunday Times fashion editorIsabella Blow. The fashionista was staying in a friend’s Upper East Side apartment when she came to New York to work with photographer David LaChapelle, but the apartment was burglarized while she was busy at the shoot. The perps exhibited the good taste to take only her answering machine and a white ermine ankle-length cape. The fur, on loan from John Galliano, had a chinchilla collar, topaz embroidery, and a price tag of $17,000. “She’s been totally distraught, because she’s never lost anything ever before,” reports a friend of Blow’s. “She thought it was kind of funny that just those two items were taken, but mainly she was horrified.”

MUSICAL PENNS: It may have been Grammy week in Los Angeles, but the city’s actors had a tough time giving up center stage. At the celebrity-packed bar of the Four Seasons Hotel (home to the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Eric Clapton, Liam Neeson, and Gabriel Byrne), Sean Penn and his brother Chris grabbed a mike from the mellow band and performed a few rousing numbers before an enthusiastic crowd. “Chris was really good, but Sean was mostly talking his parts,” said one on-the-spot critic. But the rest of the revelers were less critical. At the end of the impromptu session, they gave the Penns a standing ovation.

COX TEASE: Courtney Cox might have a huge Gen-X following, but you won’t be hearing any Liz Phair at her wedding to David Arquette. The Friends star has been looking around for R&B legend Bill Withers, best known for his 1972 hit “Lean on Me.” “Do you know if he performs at weddings?” she was heard plaintively wailing to a pal at a trendy L.A. nightspot. “How can I get in touch with him?” A spokesperson for Cox confirms that she’s a fan and would love to have the legend play her wedding when she and David set a date. “Courtney loves Bill Withers,” says the spokesperson. “She’d be thrilled.” But Bill Withers apparently wouldn’t be too thrilled to land that gig. “Bill Withers doesn’t do weddings!” snaps a rep for the 60-year-old singer.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME: The competition for trendy restaurant territory is so stiff that bidding can start even before the building goes up. Only the foundation has been laid for Sixty Thompson Street, a 100-room hotel expected to be completed by year’s end, but the owners of some of the city’s hottest watering holes are already vying to occupy the space. A source lists Le Bilboquet’s Philippe Delgrange, Amy Sacco of Lot 61, and the Whiskey Bar’s Rande Gerber among the hopefuls. “It’s like a marriage; we want to find the perfect fit,” says Sixty Thompson Street co-owner Jason Pomeranc, adding that he hopes to have someone onboard by mid-April. A Bilboquet manager confirmed Delgrange’s interest, and Sacco says she’s “very flattered to be considered.” Gerber declined comment.

If you’re going to wreck a spanking-new Porsche, it helps to be a Hollywood star. B-list Brat Packer Judd Nelson, who plays Brooke Shields’s editor and sometime boyfriend on Suddenly Susan, escaped with only a bruised ego after crashing a car on the set earlier this month. Shooting a scene for the show, which is set in San Francisco, Nelson was driving a Porsche on the part of the Warner lot known as New York Street. “That’s just what we call it,” explains one set insider. “It’s urban.” Take one went well. Take two was fine. But as Nelson was driving the car on the third take, he suddenly hit the gas and missed his mark, says the insider. The car shot forward and knocked over a cameraman. The toppled techie was immediately rushed to the hospital. “The guy came back to the stage three hours later to make sure that Judd was okay,” the insider continues. Only in Hollywood would the victim rush back to the scene of the accident to check on the driver. Shaken, but not stirred, Nelson declined to comment.

Here’s a question to chew on: Could the serious, eminently respectable New Yorker writer Susan Orlean actually be writing a diet book? How about a humor book that makes fun of diet books? On March 16, Dell will release The Skinny: What Every Skinny Woman Knows About Dieting (And Won’t Tell You!), a humor book written by Patricia Marx and a certain Susan Sistrom. Susan Orlean is married to Manhattan lawyer Peter Sistrom, and the word around publishing circles is that she borrowed his surname as a sort of nom de gastronome. Is the allegedly svelte five-foot-two-inch author using her husband’s family name to protect her literary image? Those in the know aren’t admitting a thing. “I haven’t seen my co-author since she became invisible,” says Marx, tongue planted oh-so-lightly in cheek. “The diet plan really worked on her. She disappeared, and I envy her.” Sistrom called in from the road – sounding suspiciously like she was on a book tour for Orlean’s current best-seller, The Orchid Thief – and delivered an even thinner statement: “I think I’m too hungry to comment.”

No wonder Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman crashed at Sting’s apartment for their Blue Room stay in the city. Turns out that finding a luxury Manhattan rental is harder than finding a friendly face at Moomba. Saudi Arabia’s Princess Sarah – who’s married to Prince Abdul Aziz, a well-connected nephew of King Fahd’s – recently met with Citi Habitats’ Andrew Heiberger. Her request: a four-to-six-month rental suitable for four princesses, four maids, two bodyguards, and two small children, preferably situated close to the park. “She asked where Madonna lived,” says the celebrity broker. “I told her where Puff Daddy lived, but she wasn’t interested.” But even with a budget of $100,000 a month, Heiberger couldn’t find anything suitable for a princess – or this particular one, anyway. “I told her that if she was looking for a $1,500 studio, I’d have a lot more options.” The picky princess decided to move her royal brood to a hotel instead.

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman and Amber Morgan.

March 8, 1999