February 1, 1999

Advertising juggernaut McCann-Erickson WorldGroup is trying to become decidedly more glamorous. Sources say the $10 billion workhorse – already the world’s largest ad agency, with clients like Buick, Exxon, and Motorola – has its heart set on buying PMK, arguably the shiniest of P.R. houses, with Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Sharon Stone, and Tom Hanks among its illustrious ranks. Both companies admit they’ve had meetings, but both deny that any deal has been struck. While such a takeover would add a measure of security to a company that deals with the mercurial entertainment industry, the principals are clearly wary of corporate ways. Leslee Dart, part-owner of PMK, says that a “partner” that would let PMK run autonomously might be welcome, adding, “What we love most is dealing daily with the clients and the press. We will never allow that to change, but we’re always willing to talk. Why wouldn’t we be?”

Was it a dispute over a terrace that led a Central Park West co-op board to turn down Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer’s bid for Calvin Klein’s apartment – or a fat broker’s commission? Stephen Rabinowitz, the attorney for Nichols and Sawyer, confirmed for the New York Observer that the board demanded $1 million for the terrace next to Klein’s apartment – and that the power couple agreed to pay, raising their offer from $7.5 million to $8.5 million. “After Mike and Diane had a signed contract,” Rabinowitz told New York, broker Jeff Lamb called, trying to entice the media stars to make a few bucks selling the apartment they didn’t yet officially own. “But they didn’t want to do that deal,” Rabinowitz says. Lamb’s client is record exec Steve Gottlieb – who, now that Nichols and Sawyer have been turned down, has an all-but-signed contract to buy the apartment for $8.6 million (although another buyer has emerged at $8.7 million, according to one building insider). Lamb’s brother is Craig Lamb, who manages the building and should have influence with the board. Klein’s broker, Roger Erickson, refused to comment, as did both Lambs. Another real-estate source asks, “Why would it be about the terrace if Mike was going to pay the million for the terrace? Perhaps Gottlieb got the deal because Craig Lamb’s brother was his broker.” Perhaps, indeed: Jeff Lamb’s 3 percent commission adds up to a tidy $258,000.


Wilbur Ross knows the value of a well-timed bathroom break. The Rothschild banker, who’s divorcing failed politico Betsy McCaughey Ross, is also in a legal battle over money with ex No. 1, Judith Ross. That fight centers on when Wilbur transferred some stock to Judith, who claims it lost half its value by the time she got it. During a recent deposition, Judith’s attorney, Bernard Clair, asked Wilbur pointed questions about three letters he wrote in 1995 requesting that his firm transfer the stock to Judith as soon as possible. Two of the notes date from October, but they’re scrawled in his own handwriting, and Wilbur testified that he didn’t use Rothschild letterhead because it was personal business. But a month later, he had no problem using the firm’s stationery and secretaries to type up the third letter – which, oddly, doesn’t cite the two earlier requests. Clair pressed Wilbur for the name of the Rothschild banker to whom he’d sent the first two memos. Then Clair whispered to a clerk who promptly left the room, presumably to call that banker. That’s when Wilbur interrupted the proceedings, saying he had to go to the bathroom, says a source at the deposition. But before he made it to the john, the eyewitness adds, Betsy’s soon-to-be-ex took a detour to use the phone himself. When the deposition resumed, Wilbur admitted that he had, in fact, called the banker, explaining that he was merely asking him to “cooperate” with Clair. It seems that nature’s call – and Wilbur’s – came at just the right time.

THE BAER FACTS: Hard as it is to believe, not everyone who works at the White House has had to spend time in front of a grand jury. Former White House communications director Don Baer, now a television executive at Discovery Communications, is one of the fortunate few senior White House officials who have never had to testify. But he recently had a brush of a different sort with a grand jury. D.C. resident Baer got a notice to serve in the district, according to a Beltway source. “He wrote a letter explaining that if the grand jury was about any of the White House scandals, he should be disqualified because he had worked with those people for the last three and a half years,” says the source, who adds that the media exec has been excused. For now. Baer refused to comment, saying, with a laugh, that he didn’t want to tempt fate.

UNTYING THE KNOT: Betsey Johnson’s last marriage may have been as offbeat as her line of clothing. Johnson and her third husband, a globe-trotting computer-biz retiree, are getting divorced after just a year and a half of wedded bliss – but they’re not necessarily breaking up. Describing their legal disentanglement as “a super-amiable change of arrangements,” a Johnson spokesperson assures “Intelligencer” that the two have been a couple for nine years and that they’ll remain together. Or maybe not exactly together, since Johnson’s not-so-ex divides his time among London, Jamaica, and San Francisco, while Johnson lives here. “We got into a tough, traveling, East Coast- West Coast relationship, which finally didn’t work out,” says Johnson. “We still love each other and we’re going to stay very close.”

If Luciana Gimenez Morad and Jerry Hall ever want to spend some quality time together, all they have to do is visit their lawyers. In her £30 million divorce suit against Mick Jagger, Hall has retained one of London’s most feared divorce attorneys, Sandra Davis of Mishcon de Reya, while Morad’s £5 million paternity slap against the reckless rocker will be delivered by Raoul Felder, the New York Überlawyer who’s done cases for Mishcon de Reya and still uses the company’s offices when he’s in London. Felder did in fact run into members of Hall’s legal team when he met with Morad at the de Reya office earlier this month, but, he says, “we didn’t trade notes.” And in case Mick is worrying that a financially deadly alliance is mounting against him, Felder insists that “lawyers don’t share secrets. We talked more about Bill Clinton’s sex life than Mick’s.”

Keith McNally is at it again. The restaurateur who brought us Odeon, Cafe Luxembourg, Nell’s, Lucky Strike, Pravda, and Balthazar is at work on another bistro in the new, heavily Belgian restaurant row – the unglamorously monikered meatpacking district. This spot, slated to open in October, will be lower-priced than Balthazar, serving breakfast, lunch, and supper till 3 or 4 a.m., with an emphasis on heartier dishes like stews and gratins. McNally was attracted to the location – the corner of Little West 12th Street and Ninth Avenue – because of the old cobblestone square and expanse of sky. “There are no tall buildings. It looks like something out of Budapest,” says McNally, who insists that this will be a working-class bistro for locals. Quips McNally about his new site, “If the meat delivery is late, you’ll know we’re having problems.”

While most respectable publishers ban a mere handful of words as being unsuitable for print, the ever-diligent powers that be at Time Inc. have added a few thousand new no-nos to the list – just the entire Yiddish language. Sources say Time Inc. editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine has dissuaded his writers from using the age-old language that has given us such indispensables as tchotchke, shtick, and schmuck. “I think it’s pretty silly myself,” says one Time magazine insider. “It’s rather ironic at this point, when so much of that language has become part of our language. Maybe Pearlstine’s trying to keep things … oh, I don’t know.” Pearlstine says there is no official prohibition against Yiddish but admits he frowns on its usage: “It’s not about Yiddish per se; I feel the same way about Latin. I have a strong preference for using English in English-language publications. I don’t particularly like voilà or d’accord, or meshugge instead of crazy.” Pearlstine also insists that if a writer absolutely has to use Yiddish, he or she must understand it, explaining, “If you call someone a putz, you should know it doesn’t just mean a stupid person.”

Let’s hope that Ambassador Peter Tufo gets the New York tabloids at the embassy in Hungary. Reading about Ron Perelman’s travails in court just might dissuade him from playing hardball in his own messy divorce from writer Francesca Stanfill. Right now, it looks like the warring couple is heading to trial, and the issue will be his adultery, according to her friends. “He’s trying to put the screws to her financially,” claims one Stanfill intimate. When the ambassador leaves Hungary for New York, he very undiplomatically insists upon staying at the marital home, the friend continues. But Tufo has friends, too. “He was an excellent husband and he’s a great father,” says one of them. “Why would anyone want to accuse someone of philandering if it weren’t to embarrass him and to exchange dirt for funds?” Meanwhile, Stanfill is starting to go out again. Last week, she attended a WNET fund-raiser with New Yorker editor Charles Michener, and she’s been seen at lunch with financier Richard Nye, although everyone agrees that she’s not dating anyone now. Her attorney, Robert Stephan Cohen, refused to comment. Tufo’s lawyer, Norman Sheresky, says, “This case should not be tried at all – nor should it be tried in the press.”

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman.

February 1, 1999