December 7, 1998


When the Alvin Ailey company celebrates its fortieth anniversary, at City Center on December 2, one longtime contributor will be notably absent: Brother John Sellers. The vocals in Revelations, the company’s signature piece, won’t be sung by the 74-year-old bluesman, and the early Ailey pieces for which he arranged the music – Roots of the Blues and Blues Suite – won’t be performed at all. Sellers is currently embroiled in a nasty lawsuit with the troupe, which cut off his royalty payments last January. Brother John was headlining at Gerde’s Folk City in 1959 when he met and began to collaborate with the then-unknown choreographer Alvin Ailey. After Ailey’s death in 1989, Sellers’s lawsuit charges, the company recognized a copyright fraudulently obtained for the music by Howard Roberts, the troupe’s choral director, who had been asked by Ailey to transcribe Sellers’s arrangements. (Ella Jenkins, whose Folkways/ Smithsonian recordings are used in Revelations, has also had legal wranglings with the company over Roberts’s claiming credit for her work.) The company’s court papers accuse Sellers of “extracting outrageously high royalties” and “demanding a disproportionate share of the limited resources” of the not-for-profit group. “We have been and remain willing to pay Sellers fair compensation. We’re sad that our long relationship has come to this,” says Ailey executive director Sharon Gersten Luckman. Sellers earned about $80,000 from the Ailey company in 1997, according to his attorney, Steve Kramarsky. These days, Sellers says, he can’t afford to buy his prescribed medicine. “I have no way of getting by,” he says. “Sometimes I weep in the street.”


Apparently Rudy Giuliani is capable of turning down free publicity. Documentary filmmaker Susan Steinberg approached the mayor’s film office last June requesting an interview for what she calls “an in-depth examination of what it’s like to run the biggest city in the world.” Giuliani’s people finally got back to her in early November to say the mayor was just too busy. “I don’t understand why he’d turn it down,” says Steinberg, whose credits include An American Family, Don Hewitt: 90 Minutes on 60 Minutes, and an Emmy-winning biography of Edward R. Murrow. “This is for national broadcast and Europe – I thought he’d be delighted.” Steinberg isn’t put off, however; she intends to ask for Rudy’s participation again and, if need be, to work without his cooperation on an unauthorized version tentatively titled Rudy’s New York. “This is New York City,” she says. “No one owns it.” Mayoral spokesperson Cristyne Lategano says that the interview was refused because it was presented to her office as having to happen immediately. “If there’s been a miscommunication,” Lategano adds, “we’ll certainly keep our options open in the future to review that request.”


Looks like David Copperfield doesn’t do it all with mirrors. The illusionist par excellence has hired security-man-to-the-stars Joe Bolanos to install state-of-the-art surveillance systems in the four-story apartment he shares with supermodel Claudia Schiffer. And we thought the Galleria building on the East Side already enjoyed a fair amount of security. Have Copperfield’s paranormal experiences made him just a bit paranoid? Surely he wouldn’t doubt his ability to make missing objects reappear. The magician could not be reached for comment.


FRANCO’S FORCES: Before the bad reviews came in, everyone who had a voice in Franco Zeffirelli’s La Traviata got a present: a limited-edition lithograph of the opera’s main set, with a personal inscription from the director. But Zeffirelli’s gift could hardly make up for all of the production’s cast changes and tense rehearsals, which got particularly strained after the lead soprano, Renée Fleming, dropped out less than a month before the opening. Zeffirelli championed the Albanian soprano Inva Mula, who flew in for an audition, but the Met hired Patricia Racette instead. Now Zeffirelli stands behind the Met’s decision. He says he had suggested Mula “in a panic, because there wasn’t anyone when we lost Fleming. I was certainly not imposing, I was simply informing,” the director explains. Mula “is very young, but she made a great impression,” he continues. “We will call her in the future. But she is not yet at the level of Racette.” As for the lithographs (700, from Florence), he says he had them made “because the people at the Met are an army. I have a special talent in creating problems for myself, but then I immediately correct them.”

MR. LIVINGSTON, I PRESUME: Henry Livingston may be a distant cousin of the new speaker of the House, Robert Livingston, but he’s facing one New York experience that might rattle even the man who nuked Newt: a legal threat from his landlord. In fact, Livingston’s ex-landlord is making the threat. For 37 years, Livingston, 80, lived in a rent-controlled two-bedroom on the Upper East Side. Last year, the financial analyst retired to his family’s 1793 home on 200 acres overlooking the Hudson; in October, his Manhattan landlord won a retroactive hardship rent increase of $11,959.36. Livingston’s attorney, Jonathan Nichols, appealed to the state’s rent-control agency; Rosenberg & Estis’s Jeffrey Turkel, who represents the landlord, calls a lawsuit “possible.” Unless, of course, Livingston manages a successful filibuster.

TAPE MEASURES: Nothing gets past the sharp eye of Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes – except when it’s right under his nose. A few pirate-video vendors have apparently set up camp just outside his old offices at 210 Joralemon Street (one block from his new offices). A Hynes spokesperson says that “the district attorney’s office has worked closely with the Motion Picture Association to target mass producers of pirate videos. Sellers are a misdemeanant, and misdemeanants don’t have a high impact on the industry.” And as for the misdemeanants right outside the D.A.’s door: “If someone files a complaint, we will prosecute it.”


Calista Flockhart, who hadn’t cut her hair in a year, decided to take the plunge last week, and as long as she was doing it, she wanted to go all the way. According to a West Coast entertainment-industry insider, the television star decided she wanted a “little-boy cut” similar to Mia Farrow’s in Rosemary’s Baby. “You know how, normally, a hairdresser would jump at the chance to make a major change in a celebrity,” says the source, “but no one would touch this with a ten-foot pole. They thought she would look like the walking dead.” Flockhart phoned Cindy Crawford for advice, and the mannequin referred her to L.A. hair man Philip B., who talked her out of the severe cut in favor of a trim to her clavicles. “I told her I didn’t want to shock America. I said, ‘You’re Ally McBeal, not Madonna. People will want to crucify you – and tar and feather me.’ “


Ben Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix can apparently break more than hearts. Sources say they were partying in Veruka’s upstairs lounge recently along with Ben’s brother Casey when the horseplay got a bit out of hand. The two A-listers were engaged in a great big L.A.-style embrace when Affleck’s chair collapsed, sending them both to the floor. The only injuries may have been to their egos, what with Mariah Carey and Russell Simmons within eyeshot and one witness reporting that Affleck looked a bit chubby, “unshaven and not fit.” But a club spokesperson says, “Ben’s been in a lot lately, and I think he looks great.”


Fred Drasner is learning that it’s not easy combining a career as the New York co-publisher of the Daily News with the life of a gentleman farmer in Dutchess County. Drasner’s hapless attempts to decorate his pastoral hideaway with ducks and camels have been gleefully covered by the Post’s “Page Six,” which anointed him “Duckslayer” after he “opened fire on a pond full of sitting ducks” last year. Last fall, Drasner bought a pair of 10-month-old camels – Lawrence and Arabia – hoping to mate them when they reached sexual maturity (at 4 to 5 years old) – but Arabia died last month of a rare infection. When Arabia took ill, Drasner took the ailing dromedary to the large-animal clinic at Cornell University. “She had been on a worming schedule that was every three months, and that’s what my original vets recommended,” explains Drasner. “It turns out that it’s more appropriate to put them on a one-month schedule.” Undaunted, Drasner will look for another female camel soon.


The zombies in director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy were pretty creepy, but they don’t compare to some of the extras on his latest pic, For Love of the Game, which wrapped last week at Yankee Stadium. Filling the stands for the Kevin Costner baseball flick sometimes required as many as 2,000 extras, so, according to an on-set insider, the casting crew hired everyone it could get its hands on at $70 a day – including prostitutes, homeless people, drunks, and druggies. “Security threw out hundreds of them,” says the source, for fighting, drinking, and engaging in sex acts. The pièce de résistance came when a popular extra called Guido decided to celebrate the last day of filming by donning a white suit and running the bases, at which point “security tackled him,” says the source. A spokesperson for the film says, “They didn’t tackle him; they just cornered him when he was finished,” adding, “I didn’t see any of that other stuff, but, yes, they were a pretty wacky group.”

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman and Elana Zeide.

December 7, 1998