Intelligencer: June 1, 1998


It seems the Seminar Center is getting a crash course in street fighting. The center, a New Age rival to the more established Learning Annex, opened its doors last January. But recently, the center’s founders, Eli and Elsie Marcus, have been on the receiving end of some very bad vibes. Their sidewalk display boxes, which provide free course brochures, are being routinely vandalized, with eggs thrown inside, catalogues dumped in the trash, and large stickers placed over their logos, while neighboring boxes remain untouched. Now the couple has filed three police reports and hired a private investigator to look into the episodes. “We are investigating who is responsible for these incidents, including the Learning Annex. But we aren’t ruling out anyone,” says Marcus. “Based on our findings, there will be a lawsuit.” The Annex has some concerns of its own: It has filed a copyright-infringement suit against the center, claiming that the center’s brochures are nearly identical to its own. Adds the Annex’s CEO, Stephen Seligman, “We have some suspicions of vandalism on the center’s part. But hopefully, all of this will stop soon.” The Marcuses say they haven’t given in to negative karma. “We’re all part of the same light,” says Elsie, “and whoever’s doing this to our displays, I wish them love and light.”


Patrons at Silver Star Quality Meats in Sheepshead Bay got more than just pastrami during a recent shopping excursion. A frumpy woman with disheveled gray hair began ordering loudly in a thick Brooklyn accent, at one point shouting, “Hey, whatsa matta wit you? I didn’t hear you call my number!” But what really turned heads was the matron’s familiar appearance. “I thought, Don’t I recognize this lady from someplace?” said one shopper. “I thought maybe we went to the same temple.” Not likely. Eagle-eyed shoppers soon recognized the loudmouth as 1955 Miss America, Lee Meriwether. The current All My Children star was merely getting into character for her upcoming stint as a Jewish dowager in Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral. A publicist for the show explains, “Lee wanted a total-immersion course in the mores and manners of Brooklyn housewifery.”


After spending 1997 embroiled in a messy divorce, Barry Kieselstein-Cord struck back this year, designing a wedding ring so cynical that the word divorced is woven right into the band. “It’s black humor,” says the jewelry-and-accessory designer-to-the-stars, adding that it’s available in silver and gold. “When all seems dark, there is a silver lining in the cloud.” Friends say his ex, CeCe Kieselstein-Cord, seems to have found her own silver lining: Her latest flame is Christopher Heath, the British banker who used to head the former Barings Securities and is now in charge of Caspian Securities. Barry is now dating, too – his new girlfriend is Karen Hersey, a designer whose line of screens and room dividers should be in the stores this fall. Some Upper East Siders are whispering that Karen is a dead ringer for the CeCe of twenty years ago. “She’s a very beautiful woman, as is my ex-wife,” Kieselstein-Cord says diplomatically, before denying that Hersey is a CeCe clone.


Be careful what you wish for. After finally beating the criminal case against him, Peter Gatien was free at last to return to operating the clubs – the Limelight and Tunnel – that made him famous. But now it seems his costly legal battle may make that difficult. A source close to Gatien says the cash-strapped nightclub king can no longer afford to run the Limelight and must sell it. As part of the deal, however, Gatien would continue to oversee the club’s management and day-to-day operation. While Gatien admits that “there has been some restructuring” in the management of his clubs, he nevertheless insists, “I am not selling the Limelight.”


And you thought ZZ Top had a cool car. When Gene Simmons was spotted mulling over a blueprint in the lobby of the Sunset Marquis hotel, onlookers guessed he was approving plans for a new grand home. But Gene and his fellow Kiss members, all masterful marketers, are now about to finance and launch their own automobile. The band will produce a black-and-silver two-seater that will appear with them during publicity stints for their upcoming album, world tour, and rockumentary. While the band plans to start with six of the souped-up sportsmobiles, which will be unveiled in September, music-industry sources say the group’s members may eventually mass-produce the autos for an estimated retail price of $50,000 each. “Everyone is going to freak out when they see this thing,” says Kiss’s manager, Doc McGhee. “This isn’t just some Corvette with a Kiss decal on it. This is Kiss: fast, flashy and over-the-top.”


Forget about the right time to plant bulbs. The calendar in Martha Stewart Living would start to look like a court docket if it were really based on Martha’s life. Not only is the empress of entertaining facing court dates with her East Hampton neighbor Harry Macklowe, but now she’s also got a brand-new lawsuit in Connecticut, where she’s being sued by her longtime lawyer-agent, Jeffrey Stephens, who claims she’s cheating him out of money. In court papers filed this spring, Stephens explains that he began working for her in the eighties, “before Ms. Stewart gained the degree of fame and fortune that she now enjoys.” Now, he claims, she’s not living up to a contract that grants him 5 percent of her take from the television, magazine, and media deals he negotiated, excluding her salary, her stock options, and her expense reimbursements. Stewart’s attorney (and new son-in-law), John Cuti, says Stephens has “no basis” for a suit. “He was paid a significant amount of money for a number of years that more than adequately compensated him for the work he performed,” says Cuti.


Being rich and famous can hurt more than help when it comes to gaining entrée, as co-op applicants well know. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that several high-profile Hamptonites up for membership at the exclusive Southhampton Bathing Corporation may have a tough time passing muster. The newly married status of David Koch, once famous for his wild parties, doesn’t automatically qualify him, or his wife, Julia (left), says one longtime club member: “He’ll get in when hell freezes over. But Julia’s been lobbying hard, cutting the cheesy people from her parties and replacing them with more socially influential people.” Among the other boldface applicants are Richard and Karen LeFrak; Jody Donohue, the fashion publicist; and Carroll Petrie, the stylish widow of philanthropist Milton Petrie. Members agree Petrie is the only one with a good shot. “Milton was too well known, and he was Jewish, which makes it harder. She shouldn’t have that much trouble on her own,” says a socially active Southampton man. But LeFrak “isn’t the image they’re looking for,” and Donohue, as a publicist, has raised concerns that “she’ll talk to journalists.”


Glasnost is suddenly getting glamorous. The French Riviera is the location for an unlikely meeting of pop and politics, as both Russian premier Boris Yeltsin and Madonna play house in Cap d’Antibes this summer – in neighboring estates. The newly spiritual girl has rented a lavish villa, complete with vineyard, to accommodate her extensive entourage, including her personal assistant, nanny, and trainer, according to a source close to the transaction. The singer herself will be setting up camp in the tony Hôtel du Cap nearby. Madonna’s press agent, Liz Rosenberg, denies the rental. “If only,” she says wistfully. “Then I could visit her there. Alas, she’ll be in town for most of the summer.” Yeltsin may also want to keep his latest hideaway choice under wraps. The Russian leader has reportedly bought the $9 million Château de la Garoupe, formerly rented by the likes of Aristotle Onassis and Cole Porter. The Russian government firmly denies the purchase, although real-estate sources and area locals insist that Yeltsin is now a resident. “But the political fallout in Russia would be catastrophic if word got out that Yeltsin had that kind of cash. They’ve got to stay quiet,” observes one Kremlin-watcher.


The barbs were pointed at the going-away party for Charles Leerhsen, who left an assistant managing editorship at People to run the show at rival Us. As his guests drank cocktails on the thirty-first floor of the Time-Life Building, the toasts made for a particularly well-done roast. “Now, instead of a week, Charlie will have a month to rewrite everyone,” cracked one of Leerhsen’s former writers. “What can I say that my feet haven’t said already?” rejoined Leerhsen. He implied he’d been forced “to fill a role” at People below his ability, likening himself “to that retarded guy they executed a few weeks ago.” He added, “I wish I could take you all with me, but I’m limited to the first 175 résumés.” And he snuck in a dig about his former boss, People managing editor Carol Wallace: “Editorial director Henry Muller said I could run another Time Inc. magazine, or I could go shopping on the weekends with Carol” – a not-so-subtle reference to a Woodbury Common limousine outing that Wallace organized recently with several underlings. “Well, it was a tough decision,” Leerhsen continued to joke. “I was thinking: Walter Isaacson’s job managing editor of Time or Woodbury Common?” Wallace guffawed away with everyone else, according to several witnesses. “Hey, he was making fun of everybody else. Why should I be left out?” Wallace says.

Additional reporting by Kate Coyne.

Intelligencer: June 1, 1998