December 11, 2000

Bierenbaum’s Truly a Lady Killer
Plastic surgeon turned convicted murderer Robert Bierenbaum may be facing twenty years to life for killing his first wife, Gail Katz, but the chicks still seem to dig him. At the doctor’s sentencing hearing last week, his current wife – press-shy gynecologist Janet Chollet – sat in the courtroom holding hands with a pretty mystery woman, who turns out to be one of her husband’s ex-girlfriends. Sandy Schiff, a Manhattan trial attorney who dated Bierenbaum for three years between Gail’s 1985 disappearance and when Bierenbaum met Chollet in the early 1990s, says that Chollet “reached out to me” after the guilty verdict in September and that the two have become fast friends. “We both believe in his innocence,” explains Schiff, who in September told Vanity Fair that she could vouch not only for Bob’s innocence, but for his prowess in bed. “He’s a very gentle, wonderful person,” Schiff tells us, “and Janet’s an extraordinary woman. This trial is an outrage.” Schiff has visited Bierenbaum in prison, with Chollet’s blessing, at least five times since the verdict and even picked out the shirt and tie he wore to his sentencing hearing. “I went to the Macy’s at the Queens Mall,” she says. “I think he looked great.”

Sharon Stone’s Active “Imagine”-ation
There was a lot of talk about cosmic connections with deceased music legends at last week’s AMFAR event, and not everyone was amused by it. A source who attended the event tells us that honoree Rosie O’Donnell was slightly annoyed and less than impressed by event chair Sharon Stone’s at-the-podium musings about John Lennon. Stone recounted how she first heard the words to “Imagine” as a girl. Then, she continued, when she was 20 she felt John Lennon’s “presence” and turned around to come face-to-face with him on the street. She then recited the last two lines of “Imagine” to the restless audience and proceeded with her speech, peppering it with quotes from the song. “Everyone thought it was really inappropriate. People were turning to each other with these bemused looks on their faces,” says the source. Later in the ceremony, comedienne and event host Kathy Griffin poked fun at Stone, citing a chance encounter of her own: She felt Elvis’s presence, turned around to see a glittery belt, recited lines from “Hound Dog,” and proceeded to have sex with the King. O’Donnell’s rep denies that Rosie was miffed by Stone’s ramblings and tells us a good time was had by all.

Monica Lewinsky: Selling Out for the Holidays
We knew everything would turn out just fine for Monica Lewinsky. In only three weeks, the entire stock of Lewinsky’s holiday collection of handbags has sold out at Henri Bendel. With a month’s worth of shopping days left until Christmas, however, the store has doubled its order for the Monica-designed purses, which go for $125 to $195. “It feels great,” says Lewinsky. “Bendel’s shoppers are so hip and savvy – having them buy my bags is really gratifying.” It’s certainly a feat, considering that Monica has no formal design training. “My creativity comes from an unhoned place,” she explains, adding, “if unhoned is a word.” Asked about her average workday, Monica told us she’s usually “up at the crack of dawn,” and that she’s been spending a lot of time in the garment district. “It’s a cool community,” she says. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of politics involved, which is nice.”

Branson: My Mop Top Was a Flop
Billionaire balloon adventurer Richard Branson wasn’t always the serious-minded, rational man he is today. When the Virgin king hosted a premiere party for the Miramax rerelease of A Hard Day’s Night last week, we asked him about the first time he saw the groundbreaking flick. “I was 14,” he recalled, “in this little village, Crawley, south of London. There were a lot of screaming kids, and I remember going back to school and ordering a Beatles wig, thinking that this was going to be the hippest thing that I could do.” And how did the little venture turn out? “When the wig arrived, I realized it wasn’t quite as hip as I thought it was going to be. In fact, it was one of the more embarrassing things I’ve done in my life.” And we thought nothing could be more embarrassing than that ubiquitous photograph of him in a wedding dress.

Oreskes to take Times to the Tube
Plans for the New York Times’ new television news show are proceeding at such a pace, the paper has already chosen the man to head up the venture. According to a publishing insider, Washington-bureau chief Mike Oreskes will be leaving his post to head the newspaper’s foray into nightly news on PBS. Speculation about possible front men for the venture has raged since Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. described the news show at a conference this fall. The photogenic Oreskes, who’s quite a daaper dresser, would definitely provide some leavening for Jim Lehrer. A Times spokesman said the paper had nothing official to announce at this time.

Spoil Rod – and Spare the Child
Legendary partyer Rod Stewart was uncharacteristically reclusive at a soirée thrown by Nicolas Berggruen at his estate in Miami over the Thanksgiving weekend. A fellow partygoer tells us that as celebs and scenesters mingled around the pool and grounds, Stewart sequestered himself in a room. It turns out the rocker was tuning in to Politically Incorrect, where his daughter Kimberly was making a guest appearance. Stewart, along with his girlfriend, Penny Lancaster, had trekked from Palm Beach down to Miami for a Cartier party at the Delano before arriving at Berggruen’s bash with Ben Affleck and Tori Spelling in tow. Stewart’s rep confirmed his daughter’s appearance on the television show but did not comment on the rocker’s mood. At the holiday season, it’s nice to know that even a bon vivant like Stewart can focus on family matters.

Barbour Goes A-Fowl in Jane Eyre
To most of us, James Barbour is the somewhat imposing star of Jane Eyre on Broadway; to his fellow cast members, he is simply Chicken Boy. Barbour tells us director John Caird bestowed the nickname on him while they were developing the show in California. “I guess I was walking funny,” says Barbour. “John saw me and called out, ‘Hey, there goes Chicken Boy!’ ” The nickname stuck, and thanks to pranksters, the set was soon replete with fowl. In one instance, Barbour relates, “we had this chestnut tree onstage, and one day I walk out and there’s this big chicken statue behind it.” Eventually the hypercreative actors grew weary of the original moniker and began calling their leading man Gwendolyn the Chicken. When auditions were held for the Broadway production, Barbour made up a résumé for Gwendolyn and sent it to the producers along with a photo of a chicken, demanding a tryout for his alter ego. “Of course,” says Barbour, “there was no response.” That was the last anyone heard from the feathered thespian until a few weeks ago, when tech rehearsals for the blockbuster Broadway debut began to wear on the cast’s nerves. “I decided it was time for Gwendolyn to make an appearance,” Barbour says. Sporting a six-foot-four-inch bird costume, Barbour burst into a rehearsal and performed what he calls “this chicken dance.” We’re sure it’s exactly what Charlotte Brontë had in mind.

Steven Schragis’s Mystery Number
Publishing magnate Steven Schragis’s roar is not quite as loud as it used to be. Though he once manned the helm of the now-defunct Carol Publishing Group, where he clashed with such scribes as C. David Heymann and Monica Lewinsky’s mom, Marcia Lewis, Schragis quietly took the title of marketing director at Cahners Publishing four months ago. Or did he? Calls to Schragis at Cahners were first met with “He’s on the phone list, but his name is crossed off.” Then we were told that he no longer worked for the company. When we were finally put through to his extension, we got a voice-mail message – and Schragis returned our call promptly, telling us that he’s “keeping busy and feeling great” working for the company. A representative at Cahners told us that Schragis is in fact affiliated with the publishing firm on a consulting basis. Maybe he should work on updating its phone list.

Mothership Misdirection
The sixth Miami Zen Music Festival took place in Miami’s Bicentennial Park last Saturday, but the music extravaganza wasn’t as harmonious as the name would suggest. A source tells us that after performances by Snoop Dogg and Blues Traveler, Parliament and Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton took the main stage toward the end of the show. But the funkmaster went over his allotted time and ignored repeated requests to wrap up his act. Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros fame was scheduled to perform after Clinton, and festival staff had no other choice than to apologetically ask Farrell to take the smaller, second stage as time was running out. But while Farrell’s career may no longer be ascending, he still knows how to behave like a rock star: He declined to perform on the dwarfish platform. As the Zen koan goes: When you can do nothing, what can you do?

Pras: Acting Is the Reality of Being
Rapper Pras recently completed his role in his fourth movie – a comedy called Higher Ed – but he’s still not satisfied. When we ran into him the other night at the record-release party for Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia 2000, Pras told us, “I want to do a real drama, something like Schindler’s List, something with real in-depth acting, a real story.” Maintaining the Holocaust theme, Pras named Life Is Beautiful as his favorite movie in recent years. Until that serious role comes along, though, the former Fugee has kept busy playing the straight man. In Higher Ed, he claimed, “I don’t laugh at all.” After a moment, the rapper recanted, saying, “I laugh here and there, but I try to maintain my composure.” As do we.

Additional reporting by Paige Herman and Abbey Goodman.

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December 11, 2000