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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Meda-Whore D'Oeuvres


"Chipping Norton, England — The power centers of British politics and media may reside in London, but their tentacles extend to a tiny working-class market town with rows of glistening stone buildings, 17th-century pubs and a medieval church. This politically conservative Tory stronghold in rural Oxfordshire, with its green hills dotted with sheep and cottages with slate roofs, is in some ways London’s amped-up version of the Hamptons — if President Obama, David Axelrod and Rupert Murdoch were neighbors and went horseback riding and ate suppers together. The area around Chipping Norton, about an hour-and-a-half drive northwest from London on the M40 motorway, is home to Prime Minister David Cameron’s constituency in Witney, as well as to Lady Astor and Viscount Astor, the mother and stepfather of Mr. Cameron’s wife, Samantha. Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Mr. Murdoch’s British newspapers, and her husband, Charlie Brooks, an old friend of Mr. Cameron’s brother from Eton, have homes just outside town, as does a who’s-who of British media, politics and entertainment, like Jeremy Clarkson, the raconteur co-host of the BBC’s highly rated “Top Gear”; Alex James, the former bassist in Blur; and the actor Sir Ben Kingsley. Within a short drive can be found Damien Hirst (Gloucestershire); the writer and socialite Jemima Kahn (Woodstock); and Steve Hilton, Mr. Cameron’s former chief strategist, and his wife, Rachel Whetstone, in charge of public relations at Google (Burford). The reigning golden couple of 'the Chipping Norton set,' as it’s been labeled by the British press — Elisabeth Murdoch, a daughter of Rupert, and her husband, Matthew Freud, who founded one of Britain’s most powerful public relations firms — lives nearby in Burford Priory, a converted priory that dates to the 10th century and has its own cemetery and chapel. It’s a chummy world — one of shooting and tweed — but one that has been shaken in the last two years in the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal at Mr. Murdoch’s British tabloids. It is a scandal that has splintered some longstanding relationships, made social gatherings occasionally awkward and made the clique of power brokers in the area even more of an object of fascination for the British public." (NYTimes)



"Very few people have seen David Rubenstein without a tie. Today is no exception. Though it is early on a Sunday and New York is still recovering from a snowstorm that has dumped about a foot of white stuff on the city, he is formally dressed in a blue suit with an elegant red Hermès tie. Rubenstein, co-founder of private equity firm Carlyle, does not do casual. His approach to our meal appears similarly businesslike. 'I regard food as fuel,' he tells me by way of greeting. 'I am not a brunch person.' Rubenstein, 63, has all the trappings of a billionaire; house in Colorado, house on Nantucket, $65m Gulfstream private jet, account at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, favoured watering hole of the city’s private equity tycoons. But in other ways he stands out from the crowd. His scientific approach to fundraising transformed industry thinking and, while Carlyle wasn’t the first private equity firm to go public, it was Rubenstein, eight years ago, who was the first to muse about the benefits of doing so. He was also quick to embrace publicly the 2010 Bill Gates-Warren Buffett “Giving Pledge” that called on the US’s wealthiest to give away the bulk of their fortunes – 'although I am a small fish compared to them', he hastens to point out. Rubenstein remains one of the most articulate defenders of private equity around.  'People used to think that private equity was basically just a compensation scheme but it is much more about making companies more efficient,' he says rapidly, adding: 'I talk much more quickly than you can ever write.' He pauses briefly as I scribble furiously. 'It is about aligning management and owners and bringing value to shareholders. Our focus on making companies more valuable has benefited the whole US economy.' Yet he seems oddly detached from the gilded lifestyle it has paid for. He manages to communicate that if he cares about his net worth, $3bn according to Forbes’ latest rich list, it’s not because he loves money but because he loves to give it away. At this point in his life, he says, money has become a means for him, not an end in itself. Describing himself as a 'patriotic philanthropist', he then instructs me “not to give Carlyle investors a sense that I am not working for them full time as well'. At his suggestion, we are meeting at the Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, where designer boutiques and art galleries line the street on which piles of neatly shovelled snow glitter in the sun." (FT)


"'You are looking beautiful, you precious child of God!' says Jim McGreevey to the woman who’s buzzed us into the rather institutional reception area of the General Theological Seminary on West 21st Street. The spectacularly former governor of New Jersey—who quit in 2004 over what he termed his 'shamefully' having an affair with a man, after proudly declaring himself a 'gay American'—spent three years of his post-governorship studying to become an Episcopal priest, part of his journey of penance and self-discovery. Or, more precisely, recovery, in the 12-step sense—he first went away to rehab in Arizona, not for substance abuse but for his addiction to acclaim, and wrote a tell-all book about his problem called The Confession. Of course, he went on Oprah to talk about it.  I’m with him today because Alexandra Pelosi, who specializes in making documentaries about 'broken men,' made one about this one, called Fall to Grace, that HBO will air on March 28. Pelosi approached McGreevey and his partner, money manager Mark O’Donnell, three years ago, having followed the story in the tabloids—the coming out, the so-far unfulfilled bid for priesthood, the ugly divorce where his wife accused him of 'fraud.' 'Alexandra was relentless. She sent me a card with some witty script across the face of it,' McGreevey tells me. They turned her down, he says, but they became friends. 'Then she started showing up.' McGreevey invited her to his house for a party, then to see his work with Integrity House, where he counsels women in prison and helps them rebuild their lives when they get out." (NYMag)



"Meanwhile back at Wednesday Michael’s, before I forget. Rachel Uchitel, the woman involved with Tiger Woods back when his wife was taking a 5-iron to the guy for his extra-curricular activities, was there, and Michael’s Brenda Starr  Diane Clehane got the scoop. Rachel has a ten-month-old daughter by her husband Matt Hahn and the little one is now the love of her life. 'I really have come to understand what unconditional love is. You think you can get it from a man, but this is so different,' Uchitel told Diane. Uchitel also confided that she’s been 'struggling with her identity for the past three years.' She told Diane that she’s had a difficult time finding a job 'because of the baggage attached to me.'  The Louis Vuitton of baggage though it might be. She did do a gig on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. I missed it. All that media attention puts everything a little (or a lot) off kilter, no matter where you’ve come from. That’s my read, not her words. However, as Diane summed it up with her typical perspicacity about these matters: 'For the woman whose tear-stained face made the cover of The New York Post when she first lost her then fiancé on 9/11 (a tearsheet hangs in the Smithsonian) and then went on to become the poster girl for one of the biggest celebrity scandals of the decade, life in recent years has been a series of headlines. That’s a pretty attractive quality in an employee in certain circles is this town, isn’t it?' So that was the overture to Wednesday’s Michael’s just before the band started playing. Otherwise, a media madhouse. Well dressed though it was. Clehane herself was one table over interviewing a man named Emilio Romano, president of Telemundo Media and his veep of communications Michelle Alban et al. At Table One was the Bonnie Fuller, and the Hollywood.com contigent doing their Wednesday conflab, in the company of Gerry Byrne, Carlos Lamadrid Brian Mazza, Stephen Colvin, Tom Keene, Keach Hagey, Andrea Miller, Les Berglass and ... Rachel Uchitel.  At the table next them: Rob Marshall, Director of 'Chicago;' next to him Da Mayor o’ Michael’s, Joe Armstrong with David Zinczenko." (NYSocialDiary)


"A little over a year ago, I was having a drink with John Logan, one of the most gifted playwrights (Red) and screenwriters (Gladiator, Sweeney Todd, Skyfall) working today. At some point the conversation turned to Sue Mengers, who had recently died. Sue was many things, none of them run-of-the-mill. The bullet-point version goes like this: first female superagent; legendary Hollywood wit; and the town’s most accomplished hostess. She was also a dear friend to a lot of people, me included. I had always wanted to do a documentary on her, but for one reason or another, it just never happened. When I mentioned this to John, he mulled for a moment, and then suggested a one-woman play. I thought the idea was an inspired one, and I had a feeling that Sue’s loyal circle of friends would think so, too. I introduced John to many of them and asked Annabelle Dunne, a Vanity Fair Oscar-party hand who was looking for something to work on, to pull together a big dossier of research on Sue. Four months later, John sent me his play and asked if I would help produce it—a perilous gesture of goodwill given my nonexistent theater résumé. Fortunately, he also asked his Red producer, Arielle Tepper Madover, to sign on, and she was followed by James L. Nederlander and the Shubert Organization. We went after just one director, Joe Mantello, the brilliant wizard of Wicked, Other Desert Cities, and Take Me Out. (It almost goes without saying that everybody mentioned so far has Tony Awards up the ying-yang.) Once Joe accepted, we needed a star capable of capturing the essence of Sue and bringing her alive onstage. We all agreed that there was one actress who was perfect for the part: Bette Midler. She knew Sue, Sue adored her, and not to get too showbizzy on you, it seemed like a perfect match. To Bette’s legion of admirers, this was welcome news, inasmuch as she hadn’t been on a Broadway stage in more than three decades. It took a bit of persuading, but she accepted. And, lo and behold, John Logan’s play I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, starring Bette Midler and directed by Joe Mantello, opens at the Booth Theatre on April 24. To write about the pairing of Sue and Bette for Vanity Fair, we have recruited Maureen Dowd, another Mengers chum. In her knowing and funny article, 'Baby, It’s Sue,' beginning on page 154, Maureen recounts Bette’s part in an ill-fated attempt a decade ago to lure Mengers away from her Beverly Hills command center and introduce her to the virtues of clean living as practiced at Canyon Ranch, in Arizona. Mengers made it onto the plane, and in fact all the way to the spa, but her Beverly Hills routine (chocolate, champagne, cigarettes, pot, fabulous conversation) quickly re-asserted itself. The mission was doomed." (Graydon Carter)


"Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy came out fighting on Friday after being placed under investigation for exploiting the mental frailty of the country's richest woman to raise election funds, with his lawyer rejecting the case as flawed. A Bordeaux magistrate launched an inquiry on Thursday into whether Sarkozy took advantage of 90-year-old L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, after she was declared in a state of dementia, to help raise money for his 2007 election campaign. The 'abuse of weakness' case threatens to scupper any political comeback for Sarkozy, unseated by Socialist Francois Hollande last year, by leaving him under a cloud of suspicion for months or even years.
The 58-year-old, who says he is innocent, hinted this month he could use his continued popularity among conservative voters to run again for president in 2017. His lawyer Thierry Herzog said on Friday he would seek to annul the formal investigation, which is the final step before a suspect is accused of a crime and drawn into a case which could take years to complete. 'Mr Sarkozy will carry on fighting this but at the same time he believes the treatment that has been meted out to him has been disgraceful,' Herzog told RTL radio. He pointed to repeated interviews conducted by investigating magistrate Jean-Michel Gentil of members of Bettencourt's household staff as proof Gentil was more interested in getting incriminating evidence than hearing both sides of the story.
Allies of Sarkozy also leapt to his defense, with one suggesting the timing of the investigation was politically motivated to distract from a scandal surrounding one of Hollande's ministers. Bettencourt was declared in a state of dementia in 2006 and was placed under the guardianship of her family in 2011." (P6)



"While NBC executives plot to replace Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon as host of 'The Tonight Show,' we’re told that 'Saturday Night Live' head writer and 'Weekend Update' host Seth Meyers will move into Fallon’s late-night slot. A source told us, 'Lorne Michaels wants Seth to take over from Fallon. It would be perfect for him. Tina Fey’s name had also come up, but she has said she was too busy to do it.' Work is already under way to bring 'The Tonight Show' from Los Angeles to New York, and NBC is building a state-of-the-art studio for Fallon at 30 Rock. The network is trying to get Leno, 62, to bow out gracefully from the hosting job so it can unveil Fallon at its presentation to advertisers in May." (PageSix)


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