February 8, 1999

Hillary Clinton and her “vast right-wing conspiracy” can’t hold a candle to Michael Ovitz, who evidently feels like the victim of a vast Old Gray Lady conspiracy. Just days after New York Times Hollywood reporter Bernard Weinraub first wrote about Ovitz’s foray into the world of talent management, the former agent turned Disney pensioner turned burned Livent investor turned wannabe pro-football franchisee turned manager marched into the Times’ West 43rd Street offices to talk with executive editor Joseph Lelyveld. Since then, journalists around town have been gleefully trading quotes from that meeting. “What does the New York Times have against me?” Ovitz asked Lelyveld, according to one well-connected source. “Your football writer hates me, your theater writer hates me, and Bernie Weinraub just killed me.” Lelyveld is said to have replied, “What are you talking about? If I got all three writers in a room, they wouldn’t even know one another.” Then Ovitz reportedly attacked Weinraub’s marriage to Columbia Pictures president Amy Pascal for at least creating the appearance of a conflict of interest. That wasn’t the end of it. Last week, Ovitz called Lelyveld to complain about Weinraub’s recent reporting on Hollywood’s latest love-hate-fest with Ovitz. “People all over have been calling me,” Ovitz is said to have told Lelyveld, before shrieking in exasperation, “You don’t know anything about our business. I can’t talk to you.” Then Ovitz “came as close to hanging up the phone as you can on Joe Lelyveld,” the source continued. Ovitz did not return calls, and Lelyveld confirmed that conversations took place but would not discuss specifics. “We take all criticism seriously, and we think about it hard, and we’re thinking about his hard,” he said, “but we also make our own judgments.”

Is Lutèce, that bastion of East Side upper-crustiness, on the tantalizing verge of hipness? Chef-part-owner Eberhart Müller has been talking to event planner and image consultant Jeffrey Jah, best known for promoting wild nights at the Bowery Bar and Life, about working with the legendary French restaurant. “My jaw hit the floor when he said he would like me to work with his restaurant,” says Jah. “But he wants an edgier crowd and wants to mix it up a bit, and I do have a crowd of models, designers, musicians, and downtown avant-garde.” Says Müller, “The crowd is younger than it used to be, and I want to keep going in that direction.” Lutèce is also headed in another direction: Sources say Müller plans to open a branch at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

With all the speculation about the future of Time Inc.’s editor-in-chief, Norm Pearlstine, and succession at the nation’s top-ranked publishing company, one salient fact has gone unremarked upon – until now. Pearlstine no longer reports directly to the board but rather to the chairman and chief executive officer of Time Inc., Don Logan – a chain of command that actually went into effect more than two years ago. When Hedley Donovan succeeded Henry Luce in 1964, he drew up an editor-in-chief’s charter that specified he would report directly to the company’s board of directors rather than to its business managers, which was altered during the most recent revision of the charter. “It means more in the symbolic context than in the actual,” explains one company insider. Pearlstine’s spokesman explains that his boss and Logan jointly decided that the editor-in-chief’s role “seemed outmoded,” so Pearlstine rewrote the charter. The change does not affect “the editorial independence that the editor-in-chief and the managing editors who report to him have always had,” the spokesman adds.

OLDHAM DOES DALLAS: Todd Oldham may have known well in advance that he would be packing in his sequin dresses and beaded pants and focusing on interior design and film. The former fashion darling often travels with his friend, psychic Maria Trezise, who accompanied him to Miami last week for the opening of The Hotel (formerly the Tiffany). Oldham, who transformed the Deco-district hostelry into a trendy vision of tie dye and mosaic, is now at work on a new project – interior designs for the Epic Hotel in Dallas, slated to open a year from now. As for Oldham’s other future plans, Trezise could not be reached for comment.

UNBROKEN CHAIN: Marilyn Monroe’s pearls are going full circle. The necklace that Emperor Hirohito gave the blonde bombshell on her 1954 honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio was recently sold by Susan Strasberg. Now it turns out that Mikimoto, the Japanese firm that made the necklace, bought it back from Strasberg for $110,000. Robert Schagrin of Gotta Have It!, who handled the sale, was due to give Strasberg the check on January 21, the day she died of cancer at the age of 60. “I was scheduled to meet her that morning,” says Schagrin, who instead handed the check over to her lawyer.

VIEW TO A ROOM: With the Feds having quashed a Cuban-cigar caper at Patroon last summer, owner Ken Aretsky may have his heart set on a more traditional operation these days. Sources say he wants to take over the Plaza’s super-swank Edwardian room, and while Aretsky’s not talking, a Plaza spokesperson calls him “one of a few eminently qualified New York restaurateurs to whom we’ve been speaking about a possible joint venture.” But Aretsky faces stiff competition: Also on the Plaza’s short list are Charlie Palmer of Aureole, Gotham Bar & Grill’s Jerome Kretchmer, and Alan Stillman of New York Restaurant Group, which owns Smith & Wollensky. Plaza management says it hopes to make its pick within three weeks.

MIXED MESSAGES: James Truman, Condé Nast’s editorial director, may have a little too much on his plate. In a staff memo welcoming Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl as the new editor-in-chief of Gourmet, Truman refers to the magazine as “America’s premier food and entertaining magazine.” It’s a phrase so fine it could grace the cover of Bon Appetit – in fact, it does. Gourmet’s tag line is a less lofty “The magazine of good living.” Oh, well, perhaps one Condé Nast product is as good as another.

Katie Couric’s producers at the Today show seem to have forgotten that they work in the news division. The morning anchor enlisted in “The Singing Experience,” Linda Amiel Burns’s cabaret course instructing regular folks (“doctors, lawyers – a lot of lawyers, because they’re basically hams”) in the art of musical theater. Burns’s winter workshop had already started when Couric joined the class of eighteen singing hopefuls. Couric, who sang a duet with Barry Manilow at a benefit last year, was trying to pick her song – two possibilities were “Put on a Happy Face” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You” – for the class finale, a February 2 performance at the Triad. That show was already sold out, and Today was going to tape it for a piece on “fantasy jobs,” a feature still planned for this spring, according to a show spokeswoman. But the news that Couric’s studies were about to make news was enough to quash the deal for the sensitive Today producers. Katie may be the loser in this one: Another of Burns’s former students, Danny Aiello, is planning to play Harrah’s in Atlantic City over Memorial Day weekend.

While waiting through the long players’ lockout, NBA mischief-maker Dennis Rodman wasn’t inclined to wait for anything else – not even lunch. Sources say that when the Worm ordered up a few bagels to go at South Beach’s Eleventh Street Diner, the packed restaurant’s southern-paced delivery put him in a foul mood, which only worsened when he found out that his four toasted bagels with cream cheese would cost him a salary-busting fourteen bucks. “Is that how much bagels cost?” the waitress on duty quotes Rodman as saying. “I asked if he still wanted them and he said, ‘Yeah, since I’m not paying for them anyway.’ ” Quick on the breakaway, Rodman beat it out of there munching on one of the upscale bagels while the rest of the order sat abandoned on the counter. Possibly fearing she’d have to make up for the missing cash, the waitress gave chase, but the superstar’s speed – enhanced by Rollerblades – easily outclassed the young rookie. “He’s a bit of a giant,” says the five-foot-four New Zealander, who nevertheless warns, “If he comes back here, I’ll make him pay.” Rodman’s agent had no comment.

Duncan Sheik and Lisa Loeb may have put on a good show at the BMG Music party at Sundance last week, but Sheik’s most stirring performance came just before Motorola’s party for the new Miramax film Guinevere. The carload of young women he drove over with accidentally left the rocker locked in the rear of their hatchback while they headed in to Grappa to mingle. “He thought we were playing a joke on him,” says one fellow passenger, “but we just forgot.” Sheik spent several minutes banging on the window, and his futile attempts to catch his friends’ attention eventually set off the car alarm. “You go from party to party,” explains the neglectful friend. “We didn’t realize he was still with us.”

How many executives did it take to plug in Warren Beatty’s Bulworth? Fewer than one would assume, according to Peter Bart, the Variety editor whose new book, The Gross, is now being published by St. Martin’s Press. “Even as Bulworth was shooting,” writes Bart, “a degree of confusion persisted over who had actually green-lighted the project.” Beatty, according to Bart, said that Barry Diller had made the deal when he was at 20th Century Fox, but Diller denied it to Bart. Bill Mechanic, a top Fox executive when the movie was released, told Bart that the deal “was presented to me.” And Joe Roth “professed to be similarly puzzled.” The basic irony – that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox was releasing a sixties-style protest movie – “did not escape Beatty,” Bart writes, and he suggests that Beatty was able to exploit studio turmoil at the time to retain a surprising amount of creative autonomy. “Let’s face it,” says Beatty, calling in from Bulworth’s London premiere, “it couldn’t have been a walk in the park to be an executive with a big corporation that’s owned by an even bigger corporation and have to deal with a guy like me, making a movie for that corporation that says the greatest danger to American democracy is big corporations. However, all the more credit to that corporation for financing the movie. They made it difficult but they did not make it impossible.”

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman.

February 8, 1999