March 1, 1999

Maybe Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy would just shrug off the fact that former Bulls coach Phil “Six Championships” Jackson (left) was spotted in Chelsea several times recently. But maybe Van Gundy doesn’t know that Jackson’s agent, Todd Musburger, was in town, too – at the same time. Musburger’s son and assistant, Brian, says his dad was here for reasons having “nothing to do with basketball.” Then what business brought him to New York? “Why would I want to discuss that?” asks the elder Musburger. The superagent claims it’s not unusual for Jackson to be here, since he has a home “somewhere in New York State. He had a home in Montana as well as Chicago, when he was the coach there,” adds Musburger. Now Jackson has homes in Montana and New York, and nothing in Chicago. Meanwhile, sports commentator Brent Musburger, Todd’s brother, was on ESPN Radio’s “SportsBeat” joking that Van Gundy might be ousted even before the male members of the Knicks City Dancers. So was there any Jackson-Knicks contact? “I suggest you talk to the Knicks,” says Todd Musburger. “We were not aware that Phil Jackson was in New York,” says a Knicks spokesperson. “We hope he had a good time and enjoyed the sights.” After learning of the Knicks’ denial, Musburger said, “Whatever the Knicks say is good enough for me. There are no conversations at present concerning Phil Jackson and his ascendancy to the head-coach position.” Well, did Musburger perchance speak to the Knicks about their general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who’s likely to catch the blame for what many consider the dubious Oakley-Camby trade? “I don’t have to answer that,” replies Musburger. “This is silliness.”

Fête de Famille XIII – the benefit that has long opened the fall season but was canceled abruptly last October after the death of Mortimer’s owner Glenn Bernbaum – has finally been rescheduled. Last week, the gala’s chairs – Bill Blass, Judy Peabody, Nancy Kissinger, Casey Ribicoff, and Herbert and Ann Siegel – sent out “Save the date” cards for June 9. It’ll be held, as usual, in a tent next to Bernbaum’s now-shuttered restaurant. “Probably this is the last Fête de Famille in this location, but it is not by any means the finale,” promises one of the organizers, who says the event has raised $6 million to $8 million so far. Bernbaum’s lawyer, Aaron Richard Golub, says the restaurant will not reopen even for that night, “in keeping with the will. Arrangements are being made now to put the building up for sale.”

Even George Steinbrenner doesn’t know where the Yankees will end up. But one place they won’t be is on 42nd Street – not even in virtual reality. Broadway City, a family amusement center, is going up as part of the E-Walk complex at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street, the idea being to re-create old-time New York through virtual-reality games and other interactive attractions. But they’ll have to do it without the Bronx Bombers: The Yankees are the only city institution that’s refused to come on board, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. The New York Public Library, City Hall, and even Coney Island’s Cyclone will be depicted, but the Yankees, says a team spokesman, won’t sign on because Broadway City’s owners want to use their logo and likenesses of the players – without paying for them. “We just couldn’t come to any sensible business understanding,” explains the spokesman, adding that the team would be willing to consider a new proposal. With or without the Yankees, Broadway City’s Richard Simon remains confident about the future of his arcade. Aside from a virtual roller coaster, schoolyard basketball, and an attraction “involving powerboats going through water,” Simon intends to build a mini-stadium and hall of fame “reminiscent of New York baseball in general.” Old-time baseball without the Yanks? Well, they could go all the way back to Boss Tweed’s “Mutual of New York” club – the national champs of 1868.

MURRAY HILL COMBS-OVER: Sean “Puffy” Combs and model-girlfriend Kim Porter may have bought themselves a swank $10 million home on Park Avenue, but Puff Daddy’s apparently not willing to give up the bachelor’s life altogether. According to a source, not only hasn’t he abandoned the modest Murray Hill apartment he was living in when his Bad Boy record label first signed with Arista, but he’s actually sprucing up the place. Combs has covered everything inside the duplex in white, and he’s even hiring a butler and maid, says the source. A room has been prepared for his sons, Christian and Justin, but whether Kim has any room reserved in Puffy’s outpost is unknown. A Combs spokesperson maintains that Puff Daddy is still living on Park Avenue.

CIPRIANI BEARISH ON WALL STREET: Giuseppe Cipriani’s buying frenzy seems to be shifting into reverse. He’s selling off his operating interest in Cipriani Wall Street, the ballroom-and-restaurant combo. A source says Cipriani is dropping Wall Street to focus on the Rainbow Room as well as his new ballroom in the old Bowery Savings Bank building at 110 East 42nd Street. Cipriani’s lease on the Rainbow Room went into effect in January, the month he completed the purchase of the 42nd Street spot. “I’m in a selling mode,” he recently explained… . Meanwhile, on 56th Street, Gary Robins has been named executive chef at the Park. Robins worked most recently at the Tiffany Hotel in Miami, but he won acclaim here as the chef at Aja and Match Uptown.

JILL CLIMBS THE HILL: The New York Times is getting ready for life post-Monica. Jill Abramson, one of the ace reporters who’s been on the story since the Times hired her away from the Wall Street Journal a year and a half ago, has just been promoted to deputy Washington-bureau chief. “With the impeachment behind us, there will be a great need to find ways to connect readers to D.C. events in a creative way,” explains Washington-bureau chief Mike Oreskes, “and Jill is wonderful at doing that.”

SCHINDLER’S LATEST LAUNCH: A new personality will be joining the Hamptons scene next season. Hamptons magazine publisher Randy Schindler and his girlfriend Tisha Collette are expecting a daughter – already named Chloe – in early June. Schindler has two children from two previous relationships, Ursula, 20, and Alexander, 5. So will Randy and Tisha, together a little over a year, be taking the plunge? “After our third child,” jokes Schindler.

The surprising background of one of New York’s most celebrated party-givers is revealed in Lawrence Otis Graham’s new book, Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class. Graham reports that Alice Mason, the exclusive real-estate broker whose fund-raising helped put Jimmy Carter in the White House, was born into a prominent black family in Philadelphia. “Her father, Dr. Lawrence Christmas, was a successful dentist and one of the founders of the Philadelphia chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest and most prestigious black college fraternity in the country,” writes Graham. Mason has been at least as successful in the world of high-end Manhattan real estate, tossing famous black-tie dinner parties with the likes of Barbara Walters, Dominick Dunne, Mike Wallace, and Woody Allen. Although she’s always been in touch with her sister, who lives on Manhattan’s West Side, she hasn’t kept up with her sister’s daughter, Elektra Records president Sylvia Rhone. “I just met her about three weeks ago,” says Mason. “I had actually seen her when she was 4 or 5 years old, and I haven’t seen her since. But she’s a great success, and I’m proud of her.” The real-estate doyenne explains, “There are many people with family members who live on both sides. I’ve led this life for over 45 years, and it’s all a state of mind.”

Is Sharon Stone on slippery footing with amfar? She’s been the organization’s main celebrity fund-raiser for three years now, but some insiders are grumbling that after Stone travels to promote the aids foundation, some uncharitably large hotel and grooming bills get sent to the office. “She does bring in the money, but when you think of what she costs us …” says one insider. But isn’t the foundation used to paying extravagant expenses after years of working with former spokesperson Elizabeth Taylor? “Elizabeth used to do the same thing,” acknowledges another source inside amfar, “but at least Elizabeth at the end of the year would write a nice big check to amfar, which Sharon has never done.” It did not go unnoticed that Madonna hosted amfar’s most recent cocktail party in Manhattan. But Stone’s spokesperson at PMK angrily denies the charges. “None of that is true,” says the spokesperson, who insists that the star picks up her own travel expenses when she’s on the road for the charity – and even does her own hair and makeup. amfar VP Sally Morrison agrees, explaining that some insiders might be confused about bills that are sent to the office but forwarded to Stone’s business reps. “We’ve never bought a dress for Sharon Stone; we’ve never hired a hairdresser for her,” Morrison insists.

Bruce Springsteen is still a working-class family man at heart. Unlike celebrities who seek out trendy restaurants and nightspots, the Boss is more comfortable with the blue-collar set, and has become a regular at the SoHo jukebox bar Milady’s, where Bud is considerably more popular than Chardonnay. Frank Genovese, the owner, is as casual as Springsteen when asked about his most famous patron. “He likes to come by in the early evening whenever he’s in town,” says Genovese. “He shoots pool, has a few drinks, and eats a bit with his father-in- law.” And what’s the reaction from the other barflies? Not much, apparently. “Bruce isn’t hassled here,” Genovese adds. “He likes it like that.”

Helen Frankenthaler is known for her abstract landscapes – but when it comes to her real-estate deals, it’s the literal details that attract attention. Six years ago, the artist made news when she had to forfeit a $250,000 deposit to financier Bernard Selz after backing out of a $2.5 million deal to buy his penthouse on Fifth Avenue, explaining that she’d decided to stay put in her East Side townhouse. Last May, she finally signed a contract to sell that townhouse for $1.6 million. But by the end of the year, she was in court over the deal. The buyers, Mary Ryan and Bruce Lebowitz, sued Frankenthaler, charging that she’d “unilaterally” scheduled a closing date of January 4; they asked the court to set a date “no earlier than May 1, 1999.” They explained in court papers that they’d had trouble selling their condo and that Frankenthaler had promised “to work with” them on the closing date. But after the suit was filed, the parties negotiated an out-of-court settlement, agreeing to close by February 18. One of the lawyers involved last week confirmed that the closing had already taken place, “and it was uneventful.”

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman.

March 1, 1999