January 25, 1999

From Le Cirque to Sotheby’s, conversation in social circles over the past several weeks has been dominated by the subject of Daniel Baker, one of the city’s premier plastic surgeons. Talk is that Dr. Baker – who has not only refined and tucked many of New York’s most celebrated faces and bodies but, along with his wife, socialite and TV personality Nina Griscom, regularly appears beside them in magazine pages – attempted suicide. Speculation about the cause of his desperation ranged from a disturbing Vietnam flashback to marriage trouble. “The rumors are out of control,” sighs Dr. Baker, who has returned to his practice after a month’s absence. “In December, I went through a depression, which a lot of people go through. I was more down than I’d ever been before, but I’m out of it and I’m fine now. This doesn’t have any effect on my work. I’m operating on my normal schedule.” While Dr. Baker does not deny a suicide attempt, saying only, “It’s very personal,” he dismisses the stories of marital problems as absurd. “Nina and I are absolutely together. We are starting to go out and see friends again.” Says Griscom, “We’ve heard a lot of crazy rumors. Dan and I are 1,000 percent living together. We haven’t spent a night apart.” According to Dr. Baker, he is continuing with psychiatric counseling, “like nine out of ten people in New York.” While some patients about to go under the knife are a bit apprehensive, the surgeon’s business does not appear to be suffering. “Call my office now for an appointment,” he suggests. “You won’t be able to get one before the year 2000.”

It’s time to recycle W. C. Fields’s famous epitaph, now that both New York and Philadelphia are vying to find a home for the new Alexander Calder museum that the late sculptor’s foundation wants to open. New York’s cultural-affairs commissioner, Schuyler Chapin, has been trying to get the museum of mobiles into 2 Columbus Circle. But when the Times wrote about that proposal, Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell called Sandy Rower, Calder’s grandson and the head of the foundation. “He said, ‘Listen, Philadelphia is Calder’s town. You’ve got to do it here,’ ” Rower reports. Not only was Alexander Calder born in the city of brotherly love, but his grandfather created the William Penn statue on top of its City Hall. The mayor showed Rower several sites in Philadelphia that he would make available gratis to lure the museum. In New York, the Calder Foundation had to put a bid on the Columbus Circle site, just like Donald Trump, who wants the same space. Rower says the foundation probably has enough art for two museums, although it’s clear that city officials try a little harder in the Avis city. “It’s nice that Mayor Rendell called me directly,” Rower says significantly. “With New York, you can’t figure out what they want or what they think.”

THAT’S THE WAY IT IS: It’s nice to be recognized – well, sort of. Legendary former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, traveling through an airport with his wife, Betsy, was recently approached by a woman who thought he looked familiar. “You know, you look a lot like Walter Cronkite before he died, only a bit heavier,” she observed. “I’ve heard that,” said the gravelly voiced newsman, who then turned to his wife and asked, “What did Cronkite die of?” Without missing a beat, Betsy responded, “Thinness.”

THE ODDEST COUPLE: Would you believe Lally Weymouth and Andy Stein? Unlikely as it may sound, the conservative pundit has been friends with the liberal ex-candidate for a long time. But lately the two have been hitting the party circuit together with such frequency that the inevitable rumors of a romance have sprung up. The talk only intensified when both of them went to Jamaica over the holidays. A friend of Lally’s points out that a large group went to the island, and her assistant says, “Mr. Stein is a friend of hers. He’s not a new romance.” Isn’t that what they always say?

Is Ross Bleckner the chicken or the egg? The which-came-first riddle has new resonance for the artist now that some art experts are raising questions about the influences on his latest work. Bleckner just had a well-reviewed show at the Mary Boone Gallery that seemed to borrow from some techniques pioneered by the younger artist William Wood, according to several art-world sources. Wood, whose work is currently on display at the Danese gallery, uses nontraditional tools to apply oil and wax to the canvas – the technique that some think they see in Bleckner’s new pieces. Bleckner saw Wood’s work at the Gramercy International Art Fair several years ago, according to one source, and soon after that, Wood invited him for a studio visit at which the artists exchanged work. A Wood painting is visible over the mantle in Bleckner’s apartment in the coffee-table book Loft. “Then I started getting reports from various dealers around the country that there are these paintings out there that look like William Wood’s, but they’re Ross Bleckner’s,” says one art-world expert. “My only concern,” says Daniel Weinberg, Wood’s L.A. dealer, “is that a lot of people will say, ‘Oh, Wood is echoing Bleckner’s work,’ when in fact Ross’s paintings certainly acknowledge ideas from Wood’s earlier work.” Counters Mary Boone, Bleckner’s dealer: “Art isn’t made in a vacuum, but Ross’s imagery has been fairly consistent over the last twenty years that I’ve handled his work, and the techniques he uses are the techniques he developed in the early eighties.”

Moneyline’s anchor and managing editor, Lou Dobbs, is a stickler for enforcing what some sources refer to as CNNfn’s policy of suspending tardy correspondents – except when it comes to himself. Dobbs joked on the air about showing up late for the January 8 broadcast, but not all of his colleagues are laughing. One source at the network says that Dobbs “can be a ferocious prick” when it comes to sentencing less-powerful broadcasters, adding that the anchor blamed his tardiness on a production assistant who failed to come get him in time. When his show had to lead with correspondent Candy Crowley in Washington, Dobbs cracked wise about it during the broadcast, advising viewers to start taping at 6:30 p.m., “or just as soon as I show up.” David Bohrman, the exec in charge of Moneyline, admits that Dobbs was “later than I would like getting into the studio,” but says he was there by the time the opening animations began running at 6:30. Then why start the show with Crowley? Bohrman says that since they’d rushed to get Dobbs wired up, he “wasn’t comfortable that everything was connected and working. I was thinking, ‘This is going to piss Lou off,’ but Candy seemed like a great way to start.” As for the suspension policy, Bohrman says he knows nothing about it and a CNNfn spokesperson will say only that “CNNfn has certain disciplinary measures and they vary with the severity of the crime.” The network source gripes that “people who have to do ten or twelve broadcasts a day have been suspended,” while “Dobbs has to deal with only one broadcast. It’s total bullshit.” Says another staffer, “It seems to be a selective policy.” As for Dobbs’s punishment, Bohrman says, “Will he be suspended? No, because he was in the studio on time. Was it annoying? Yes.”

Those emotional theater people are putting their sentiment to good cause. Meryl Streep and Morgan Freeman have signed a call for donations to Joe Papp in Six Acts, a documentary about the founder of the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park. Co-produced and directed by Tracie Holder and Karen Thorsen, the 90-minute film will air on PBS and portray “not so much Papp, man of the theater, but Papp the social revolutionary,” according to Holder. While the Papp project has received commitments for $690,000 from sources including the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it lacks another $184,755 needed to begin filming. Kevin Kline, whose first professional role was as a spear-holder in a Shakespeare in the Park performance of Henry VI, has volunteered to serve as an associate director on the project, and Shakespeare-festival thespians from James Earl Jones and Christopher Walken to Meat Loaf are expected to join in the effort. The recent solicitation asserts that “If Joe were still with us, he’d jump to the phones and raise that amount in a day!” With such starlit support, the cameras will surely start rolling soon. Then there’s just one more thing to settle: Who gets top billing?

When you have Lorraine Bracco starring as the psychiatrist of a New Jersey Mafia chief, it stands to reason that Martin Scorsese will show up for a cameo. Evidently that’s what most of the critics who got a sneak peek at HBO’s The Sopranos figured. Michele Greppi in the New York Post, David Bianculli in the Daily News, Tom Carson in The Village Voice, and other reviewers nationwide singled out Scorsese’s walk-on in their generally glowing reviews of the postmodern-mobster-on-Prozac series. The pint-size director walks right into an exclusive nightclub with a leggy brunette on his arm while the junior gangsters who can’t get past the velvet rope stand back in awe. “Kundun – I liked it!” yells one young thug. Only problem is, the cameo features a Scorsese look-alike instead of the director himself. “We actually did ask him,” explains one show insider. But they were told the director was too busy writing his next movie to do it. His brush-off doesn’t mean that series creator David Chase won’t ask again. “That was just a cameo, an affectionate joke,” says Chase. “I’d let him play anything. We should be so lucky.” Unlucky critic Greppi isn’t too embarrassed by her mistake. “I thought at first that it was George Whipple; then I thought, No, it’s Scorsese,” she says. “Now I think it was whoever this actor is playing Martin Scorsese playing George Whipple.”

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman and Elana Zeide.

January 25, 1999