December 6, 1999


David Letterman is notorious for keeping the set of his show at freezing temperatures, but right now it seems that he’s the one getting the cold shoulder … from CBS. The network may be richer than ever since merging with Viacom, yet that windfall hasn’t stopped the network from pulling the plug on the cash it has annually given to Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants Incorporated, to keep the Late Show’s space at the Ed Sullivan Theater in tip-top shape. In a memo sent to Lee Gabler, Letterman’s agent, the show’s vice-president of production, Jim Peterson, gripes that “CBS has spent approximately $1 million annually on capital improvements at the theater. But we were informed … that CBS was unwilling to spend any money on capital improvements during 1999.” He goes on to point out that despite being stiffed, Worldwide Pants has “continued to pay CBS more than $10 million per year for the facilities and labor.” While Gabler refused to comment and Peterson didn’t return calls, Letterman publicist Howard Rubenstein insists that amicable negotiations are under way, adding that “over the course of a year, there might be several hundred issues like this.” A CBS spokesman echoed the statement but wouldn’t address why the funds were cut in the first place or whether they may be reinstated. It remains to be seen if Letterman can manage to turn up the heat on CBS.


Those Trumps sure have a lot to get off their chests. Donald Trump is about to hawk his fourth book (and first non-autobiography), The America We Deserve, and Ivana has published three books and has two more in the works. The latest family member to get stained with ink is the putative presidential candidate’s second ex, Marla Maples. In a book proposal currently making the rounds, she sets forth the four parts of her cosmos – diet, exercise, spirituality, and the Donald, according to one source who’s seen the proposal. Marla herself has been meeting with select publishers, the source continues. Last month, when Marla told London’s Daily Telegraph that she would “not be silent” should her ex run for president (“It is my duty as an American citizen to tell the people what he is really like”), Trump temporarily withheld a $1.5 million alimony check. But Maples’s lawyer, William Beslow, says, “If Marla were to write a book, it would be highly surprising if she were not to include a section on him; Mr. Trump was a huge part of her life for over a decade.” And, the lawyer adds, “Nothing in the confidentiality provisions” would stop her: “The only prohibition is discussing details of the marriage.” Donald sounds sanguine. “I wish her a lot of luck with the book,” he says. “I hope it does well.”


The Great White Way looks to be getting a little Cuban infusion. Havana, a new musical-comedy project from the producers of Jekyll and Hyde starring songbird Linda Eder, is bound for Broadway, says Pace Theatrical Group president Scott Zeiger, and it’s not the only song-and-dance show in the works with an island feel. Emmy-winning reporter Chuck Gomez has been busy writing Tropicana: The Musical, a production set in Havana during the Mariel boat lift. Gomez says original Latina superstar Chita Rivera has been offered the leading role, and Rivera’s rep confirms she is considering the job. Performances are slated to begin at Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse next fall, and producers hope to hit Broadway in 2001. Cuba’s own theatrical export, Havana Nights, is a revue featuring music similar to that of the country’s hit musical group, the Buena Vista Social Club. The company ventured off the forbidden isle this past spring for a German run, and sources say the production is planning a tour of America with dancer-choreographer Maurice Hines (brother of Gregory) directing the all-Cuban cast. In the meantime, the show has returned home for a holiday performance, which Fidel Castro himself has been invited to attend. Then there’s Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, based on his disco-era hit of the same name. Executive producer Van Kaplan says Copa, brimming with Cuban beats, will tour the country for 35 weeks beginning next June. So why the Cuban craze? Havana composer Frank Wildhorn says the trend is all about the tunes. “The kids listen to the Cuban sounds, and the cultures mingle. It’s a good thing for music.” And maybe for Broadway.


Artist Mark Kostabi is learning that sometimes it’s easier to sell art than to give it away. He recently offered to donate to the Museum of Modern Art a painting depicting faceless consumers grabbing gobs of artsy goodies from the museum’s gift shop. “It’s a commentary on the commercialization of modern art,” he explains. MOMA’s curatorial staff was underwhelmed and politely declined the offer. “We are discriminating about what enters the collection, whether by purchase or gift,” insists curator Kirk Varnedoe. Kostabi then offered the same canvas, titled Counter Intelligence, to the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, and says the museum happily accepted it into its permanent collection. Kostabi isn’t giving all of his oeuvre away – he’s been positively e-lated with the amount of work he’s sold online. “The Internet is helping me raise my prices,” he crows. “I’m making $5,000 a day.” He went on to proclaim that art galleries are doomed because of the increase in e-commerce. “Dealers like Mary Boone and Larry Gagosian should start looking for new careers. If they really love art, they should work for art museums,” he sniffs.


The legal battle pitting the son of the late sex therapist Helen Singer Kaplan against her widower, Toys ‘R’ Us founder Charles Lazarus, rages on. Kaplan had asked the toy king for a divorce the day before she died, triggering their post-nuptial agreement – and thus a $20 million payment to her heirs. Lazarus whittled that sum down to $14 million last year with the executor of Kaplan’s estate, Stanley Diamond, a compromise that Surrogate Judge Renee Roth approved because the estate desperately needed the cash for its taxes. But according to Dr. Peter Kaplan’s latest court papers, Lazarus and Diamond – without the court’s knowledge – changed the deal so Lazarus wouldn’t have to pay anything until the litigation is over. So, the legal papers say, “not a penny” has been paid, tax penalties are mounting, and the estate is “virtually bankrupt.” On top of that, a recent IRS audit valued the postnuptial claim at the full $20 million, rejecting the $14 million compromise – adding a bundle to what the estate already owes. “It’s a sick estate,” admits Diamond’s attorney Joshua Rubenstein, although he blames the son’s continual litigation. Now Kaplan wants his day in court, and Rubenstein says the estate will appeal the audit.


Even out of the ring, Lennox Lewis can still cause a scare. At the opening of “Launch,” the new soirée at Exit, a patron waiting for the bathroom became antsy and started banging on the door. When the door finally swung open, the clubgoer was stunned to find that it was the dreadlocked heavyweight champ who was taking so long. “His face just dropped,” says an observer. The patron apologized profusely, but his fear didn’t stop him from capitalizing on the meeting: he asked for a photo. The pugilist, in a good mood from partying with Donald Trump, Jennifer Lopez, and Puff Daddy, flexed his huge arms, struck a boxing stance next to the reveler, and smiled for the camera – right there in the men’s room.


Rambo is back to causing a firestorm – this time in federal court. Pit-bull attorney Judd Burstein was accused of “Rambo lawyering” by Judge Denny Chin, who has now fined him $50,000. Burstein’s being chastened for his over-the-top advocacy of Rommy Revson, the “Scünci Queen” who made a fortune off her fabric ponytail bands, then sued her former attorney, Robert Cinque, over his billing. Cinque won the trial despite Burstein’s heavy-handed tactics – which, in the judge’s words, “threatened to turn a fee dispute into a rico case” – for which he was sanctioned on November 22. The next day, reports Cinque, “I got the check, so maybe he has learned something from this experience.” Maybe not. Burstein says he paid the fine promptly because it was a court order, although “I have no doubt that it will be repaid when I prevail on appeal.” He adds he was sanctioned partly “because I didn’t take my opponents’ feelings into account. The next step, I suppose, will be mandatory therapy sessions with potential defendants.”


SPECIAL DELIVERY: This holiday season, when some of New York’s homebound elderly answer their doors for a food delivery, they may find opera diva Jessye Norman on the other side. At the recent Citymeals-on-Wheels “Power Lunch for Women,” cabaret sensation Andrea Marcovicci’s performance of “Yesterday When I Was Young,” accompanied by a slide show of silver-haired Citymeals recipients displayed next to their youthful photos, prompted a sea of tears and moved the likes of steely agent Esther Newberg and newswoman Judy Licht to pledge to join Norman in personally delivering meals. But will the lucky seniors get an aria (or a book deal) with the grub?

DISARMING STASI: Even professional gossips can be rehabilitated. Linda Stasi, who once wrote a gossip column (for the Daily News) and now appears on New York 1 with Mark Simone, will be the New York Post’s television critic as of December 1. Her new editor, Michael Shain, understands the limitations of her post: “A regular person has the ability to change the channel, and she won’t,” he says. “You don’t understand what a loss of human rights that is.”

LOCAL COLOR: Keith McNally’s newest restaurant, in the meatpacking district, was closed to the public until this week, but the crowd at Pastis already matches the star power of any movie premiere in town. While pre-opening tastings are generally filled with investors and family, McNally’s preview pals included Anna Wintour with Shelby Bryan, Woody Allen with Soon-Yi, Susan Sarandon with Tim Robbins, Robert De Niro, Graydon Carter, Ed Koch, and Brice Marden. Didn’t McNally intend this to be a “working-class bistro for locals”?

Additional reporting by David Amsden and Suny Sehgal.

December 6, 1999