My MY….Fancy Shmancy!!!

BaltoBoy Bette Scans 144.jpg

September 18, 2003
The New York Times
$1,000 Prk Vu, Dinner and Wine Included

HE dog just ate my shoe,” Eleanore Kennedy told John Loring, the patrician design director of Tiffany & Company, as he arrived at her 23rd floor apartment at Hampshire House, on Central Park South, on Monday afternoon. He had come to put finishing touches on decorations for the dinner party she was giving that night for nine guests, including Sigourney Weaver and Bianca Jagger.

A chewed-up shoe was the least of Mrs. Kennedy’s problems. How about organizing what had swelled to 160 fetes in one night? Moguls, movie stars, politicians and plain old Central Park-loving billionaires were converging for $1,000-a-head repasts that would turn the park itself into a dinner table — an upscale version of Leonard’s of Great Neck, the Long Island banqueting palace.

It was Mrs. Kennedy who had come up with the idea of holding dinner parties at apartments with views of Central Park (and Cai Guo-Qiang’s light show over the reservoir) to raise money for the Central Park Conservancy. But the real feast would be on the views inside the hosts’ lavish homes.

Troubling news arrived at 4:15 p.m., when Mrs. Kennedy got word about the eagerly anticipated dinner party scheduled to take place at Bill Clinton’s office in Harlem, with its splendid view of Central Park. Not only was Mr. Clinton detained in California and unable to attend, but now, she was told, everyone had to be out by 9 p.m., which meant that Star Jones, Representative Charles B. Rangel and the Manhattan borough president, C. Virginia Fields, were to be sent packing, Cinderella-like, at an hour when most good parties would just be shifting into second gear.

Was she planning to intervene on the conservancy’s behalf? “I’m up to my ears in gardenias right now,” Mrs. Kennedy said with a sigh. “I’m not going to start tracking down Hillary Clinton.”

Downstairs, on the 19th floor, Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, the founder of the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, the center for Italian studies at New York University, discussed the lobster and Champagne risotto with the caterers from Acquolina before dashing off to Mass at the United Nations, where she is a member of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See. She had never met most of the people who had booked space at her three tables. “I couldn’t ask my friends to pay $1,000,” Baroness Zerilli-Marimò said. “So I’m meeting very nice people who are surely nice because they help the park.”

Others were understandably cautious about inviting strangers into their art-filled homes. Eliot L. Spitzer, the New York State attorney general, was giving a dinner with his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, in their Fifth Avenue apartment. But white collar criminals under threat of indictment who hoped to cozy up to the attorney general over fireworks, Champagne and supper catered by “21” were out of luck. The presumably felon-free soiree was open only to friends of the Spitzers.

At 6:30 p.m., a Party Rental truck festooned with pink hippopotamuses was double-parked outside 1040 Fifth Avenue, and florists, caterers and party designers were scurrying to put last-minute touches on the five benefit parties being held there.

In the penthouse, Tina Flaherty was trying to switch from Scott Joplin to music befitting a dinner catered by La Grenouille. “We’ve got French food and French flowers,” Mrs. Flaherty told her husband, William E. Flaherty. “Put on the Aznavour.”

While Charles Aznavour was thanking heaven for little girls in the penthouse, bird song was being piped throughout the 15th-floor apartment of Julia Koch and David Koch, the investor, an apartment that had formerly belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and had undergone two years of multimillion-dollar renovations. It was one of the hottest tickets in town.

Guests entered an Egyptian-themed hallway with a pair of enormous, second-century marble statues of Isis and Antinous excavated from Hadrian’s Villa; waiters offered drinks on silver trays. Off the drawing room, guests on the slender terrace admired the views of the reservoir and the Temple of Dendur. The most spectacular sight of the evening, however, was the dining room: a sylvan paradise conjured up by the designer John Christensen, who had laid a green English raffia carpet, to simulate grass, over the polished wooden floors; swathed the entire room in a whimsical tent of yellow and white organza; and hung hand-painted lime-green and yellow silk butterflies from branches of wildly out-of-season apple blossoms suspended from the ceiling.

On the 16th floor, the actress Candice Bergen and her husband, Marshall Rose, a real estate developer, were poised in that tense moment just before the first of their 16 guests (including Bette Midler and Tom Brokaw) were to arrive. Ms. Bergen had a moment of panic at 7 p.m., when the doorman announced that Liz Smith, the syndicated columnist, was downstairs.

“Oh, dear,” Ms. Bergen said, excusing herself for a minute. “I haven’t put my shoes on.”

On Friday afternoon, Norma Dana, one of the two chairwomen of the event, was asked what the weather was going to be like on Monday. “Perfect,” Mrs. Dana said, in a tone that brooked no dissent.

Mother Nature was not so obliging. At the InterContinental Central Park South, Mrs. Dana’s party was swarming with baronesses from the Garden Club of Bavaria when, at 7:45 p.m., the skies opened for a torrential downpour.

“Great! I love it!” said Dr. Maria Theresia von Wietersheim, visiting from Munich, as she stood in the pouring rain watching the fireworks. Noelle Nikpour, a member of the Central Park Conservancy from Arkansas who was watching safely from behind glass, said that she had flown from Little Rock on her Gulfstream IV to attend the party.

Wasn’t that a long way to come to watch 4 minutes and 30 seconds of fireworks?

“Once my pilots are fired up, we go 500 miles an hour,” she explained, cheerfully, “so I’m here in an hour and 45 minutes.”

Was that faster than flying commercial?

“I don’t really know,” Ms. Nikpour replied, sweetly.

By 8:30 p.m., celebrities were sitting down to eat at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, still under construction in the AOL Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. The dinner was being underwritten by Steve Ross, the chairman of Related Companies, the developer of the building. Lorraine Bracco and Stanley Tucci — so memorably naked on a Broadway stage together last year — sat fully clothed, and surrounded by Robert Duvall, Michael Caine and Will Farrell of “Saturday Night Live.”

The guests in Harlem were honoring the 9 p.m. curfew imposed by Mr. Clinton’s staff — despite much good-natured pleading from Sherry Bronfman, who gave the dinner with Robin Bell-Stevens, the new executive director of Jazzmobile. Nevertheless, Ms. Bronfman declared the evening a success. “It was beautiful, and very romantic,” she said the next day, “with lots of flowers and votive candles, white wine and green-apple martinis. “We were not pushed out,” she insisted, diplomatically. “The evening petered out and it was graceful.”

It was 10:30 on a school night, but at Hampshire House the party at Eleanore and Michael Kennedy’s apartment was still in full swing, with Sigourney Weaver and Bianca Jagger sitting side by side. Julian H. Robertson Jr., the philanthropist, who lives in the former Alice Tully apartment on the 27th floor, had already bid his 30 guests adieu.

“Wasn’t that the worst thing you ever saw?” Mr. Robertson asked departing dinner guests, firmly clutching his dog’s leash. Like many people, he was dismayed that the much-touted halo of fire that was to linger a thousand feet above the reservoir had fizzled into a haze of black smoke.

Was Mr. Robertson, who with his wife, Josie, had contributed at least $4 million to redo the pond at the southern end of Central Park, planning to walk his dog there now?

“No,” Mr. Robertson said, a bit petulantly. “I’m so disappointed in the park this evening, we’re avoiding it.”

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