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OPINION COLUMN: TED KRUCKEL

Baldwin Tribute Was Great, But D.C. ‘Real Housewives’ Book Party Was Divine

Photo: Nick Hunt/PatrickMcMullan.com

Somehow I managed to pull myself away from the Charlie Sheen and John Galliano train wrecks long enough to attend three big events last week.

I started with a celebrity tribute to Alec Baldwin benefiting the Museum of the Moving Image, which boasted Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Lorne Michaels, Mercedes Ruehl, and a zillion other bold-faced names, held February 28 at Cipriani 42nd Street. Their starlights dimmed, though, when I was exposed to the white-hot galaxy of celebrityhood that is the Real Housewives of D.C., who blew into town for the launch of Cat Ashley’s book, titled Inbox Full (she was Cat Ommanney when the show aired). And finally, I made it to the American Cancer Society’s Mother of the Year lunch at the Plaza, which honored Freya Schnabel and Muffie Potter Aston.

Everybody loves Alec Baldwin now that he’s on 30 Rock, right? And what a great comeback from the endless divorce wars with Kim Basinger and his (maybe ill-advised) public feud with Page Six’s Richard Johnson. I’ve met all the Baldwin brothers. Decades ago I’d see Alec at Montauk’s Duryea’s Lobster Deck on Sunday nights. It’s a serve yourself, B.Y.O.B. joint with simple lobsters and a breathtaking sunset view. He’d carry his own tray and stand up to greet every fan who ventured over to his table.

When I approached him the other night, there was a phalanx of three reporters, all with their little smartphones scrunched up in his face. He saw me with my little old fashioned note-pad. I patiently waited my turn, but these guys never stopped asking questions, and he never stopped answering. I was staring at them hoping my eyes in the back of their necks might remind them that it is rude to monopolize the honoree at things like this, to no avail. But he noticed me, and while talking gave me a delicious little wink. I said “perfect,” wrote “WINKED” in big letters on my notepad, and held it up to him. As I walked away he mouthed “thank you.”

This was one of those events with a lot going on. First, it was the retirement evening of Rochelle Slovin, who was the director of the museum for 30 years. She was a dazzling lady of a certain age, with a halo of platinum hair and a fabulous red sequined suit over a black camisole.

Then there were presenters including Tim Curry, Edie Falco, and Michael Keaton, plus all the others I named above—nine presenters in all, who each gave a tribute and introduced a clip. I wanted to test the nice guy thing with Jimmy Fallon, and talked to him about his recent Top Chef appearance. He passed the test. Tina Fey looked great, but I was disappointed to see that she was wearing a pair of those crazy high heels with a platform that I think make women look like they have cloven hooves. Et tu, Tina?

I was desperate to take in Mercedes Ruehl, who has two of my favorite lines of all times, one scripted. Doesn’t everyone remember in Married to the Mob (do you even remember that Alec Baldin was in that? He played Michelle Pfeiffer’s philandering husband) when she calls the hotel to make arrangements for the honeymoon suite? “I want that room swimming with flowers,” she breathily commands. I say it all the time, though no one ever seems to obey. Then when she won the Tony, she began her acceptance speech by saying, “With all due respect to the house of Chanel, this dress doesn’t make it any easier.” But she was seventh on the list and I couldn’t last that long.

I was saving my energy for the Thursday night. That was when the editor of this Web site, Chad Kaydo—who never invites me to anything, by the way—broke down and tipped me off to a literary event, the book launch of Inbox Full. [Oops, sorry! And how can I top this invite now? —Ed.]

Now everyone has his or her favorite Housewives edition. Many think because I grew up in Franklin Lakes, mine should be the New Jersey show. Indeed, I knew Caroline and Dina’s deceased father-in-law, Tiny Manzo, a gigantic man of enormous appetites who brought heaping foil trays of food to our house (my father was his banker). That is, of course, before he wound up in the trunk of his Cadillac riddled with bullets. And Caroline Manzo worked for my mother’s family real estate company, leaving under, let’s just say, unpleasant circumstances.

But mine has always been the D.C. version. Of course, Michaele Salahi stole the season with the White House party crashing and her husband Tareq’s grape stomping at the shuttered and bankrupt Oasis winery. But the other gals all have their own special-ness, which I’ll recap.

There’s Lynda Erkiletian, who owns T.H.E. Artist Agency, which she states is the leading agency of its kind (is there a runner-up, I wonder?). You remember her; she’s the tiny little thing whose African American boyfriend, Ebong, was, as Cat put it, “twice her size and half her age.” Her story arc last year peaked when her models were chosen for the oh-so-important Burkina Faso fashion show. In case you forgot, Burkina Faso is an African country, which allowed her a segment in which to ogle more than one fine, strapping young black model. And boy can she ogle. Watch out, Ebong!

Burkina Faso—I just love the name—is “the third most impoverished nation in the world,” as Lynda pointed out. Lynda was proud that this event would show that “fashion is not frivolous, fashion is not fluff…sometimes fashion can seem so shallow.” This vital event was staged to promote Burkina Faso as a cultural center. Nobody questioned whether it was appropriate that “the third most impoverished nation in the world” spend money on an elaborate fashion show attended primarily by, as best I could tell, the cast and hangers on of The Real Housewives of D.C. So why should I?

Stacie Scott Turner was the one black cast member. She (and her husband, Jason) believe that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” an opinion she voiced after accepting an invitation to go to a gay marriage meeting, presumably just to garner more camera time.

Then there’s Mary Schmidt Amons. She’s the ruddy-faced one who always had a wine glass in her hand. At her birthday party on the show, hosted by Lynda, she approached Stacie, who was talking to celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson (and at whose New York salon Cat’s party took place—don’t worry I’m getting there) and said “Girlfriend, we need to integrate salons. We may have different hair and different needs, but we should all be able to go to one salon.”

And finally there was Cat. She got branded the mean girl early on in the season for telling Janet Jackson’s chef that she hated Tyra Banks. Her new husband was a White House photographer, Charles Ommanney. She has an interesting British accent. In the show she says she’s “from London, well just outside London really,” and her claim to fame is that she kissed Prince Harry—the one that looks like his mother’s polo-playing boyfriend, and who is many years her junior.

When we arrived to meet this firmament of class and taste, there was a bit of a line waiting to get checked in and onto the elevator of Mr. Gibson’s second floor atelier. I was so excited that I didn’t mind waiting. But there was an impatient gentleman behind us—wait, it’s Paul Wharton, the celebrity stylist who took on the Housewives role of “gay guy who stirs the pot.” There’s one on every edition.

Anyway, there he was in person. Blow-dried within an inch of his life.  He jumped out of line to make sure the “up” button had been pressed (it hadn’t), then reluctantly got back in line. When the elevator arrived, I held my group back; would he, the Real Housewives of D.C. gay pot stirrer, like to take our place in line? Oh yes he would.

As we waited for the next car (we forgot to press the button a second time), I realized that I had forgotten my notepad and asked Susan (she has the same BlackBerry as me) to explain how the voice recorder worked, hoping I could be like those reporters with Alec Baldwin. Well, that was a big waste of time (she is more technologically-impaired than I am) so we decided that every time I got near a housewife (or ancillary celebrity), she and Chad would huddle round and listen in. That was our sophisticated factchecking system.

Upstairs, the party was in full swing. Paul Wharton was posing in front of the step and repeat, and he was bringing it. Chin down, legs crossed. You work it, girl.

We first came across Mary, who was wearing a Mark Bouwer dress which was very low cut for a mother of adult children. She looked much better in person than on TV. She confessed to doing her own hair and having clip-in extensions. She’s not a real fan of Stacie’s, we gathered. Her house in McClean, Virginia, is on the market and not moving, but she wasn’t asking Stacie, who is a big-time real estate agent, for help. “She doesn’t work in Virginia.”

I asked her if she planned to take her closet door lock system, which requires a fingerprint scan, to her new home, and she launched into an explanation of an event she was working on called “Labels for Love.” She asked if I heard that Micheale Salahi had been cast on Celebrity Rehab. It was the talk of the party. We wondered what her addiction was. (Seems like Dr. Drew is fearless in pushing the envelope of addiction defining, isn’t he? Yesterday I read about a body builder who can’t stop taking muscle hormones, and then there was Tiger Woods’ mistress who was addicted to acting slutty…)

Mary had her publicist with her, who had a very unusual business card that matched an unusual demeanor. The card identified her as “Captain Awesome, Secret Identity Stephanie Holland.” Her company, Squadra Entertainment, has a logo of three naked women’s legs arranged in a circle, made all the more odd in that it is emblazoned on t-shirts worn by young children in photos on both sides of the card. 

It was time to get a drink, and, this being celebrity stylist Ted Gibson’s hair shop, of course there were there were shirtless bartenders with little Chippendales bow ties. Let’s meet Matthew and Jade, shall we? They were on loan from Midtown gay bar Industry, but they had gotten their topless training at Beautiful Bartenders, natch. I would have liked to chat with them all night but I had important interviews to get in the can.

So our team cornered Real Housewives of New York City husband Simon van Kempen. He’s the one who is tall with a British accent, married to Alex, and who seems very, well, gay. In a nice way. Stardom has not treated Simon so kindly; his bloated visage reminded me of the phrase I once heard, meanly and perfectly, to describe media scourge Roger Ailes: “resembles a baby’s clenched fist.”

But he was super nice and sang like a bird. We learned that the reason The Real Housewives of New York City was scheduled to air (they ran promos) then pulled back was due to the storyline not having been fully worked out in the editing room. It sounded to me that with Bethenny gone they were coming up a little short on drama. Simon told me that after four seasons he was still an unpaid participant in the show but “they’ve giving me a Web series.” Oh, the waiting will be unbearable. He wanted us to know that Micheale Salahi had just been named to the cast of Celebrity Rehab, and that he likes to refer to them as the Salamis. He also told me that they shot 5,500 minutes to yield one hour of programming, which he called “heightened reality,” and I call a colossal waste of time, but it’s not mine so who cares really?

Next up—well that’s not right, because to interview Andy Cohen one must look down. A diminutive little fellow, this cable wunderkind was wearing tight, low-cut jeans and a snug little turtleneck. I tried to get him to commit to another season of The Real Housewives of D.C. but he wasn’t being baited. In fact, we didn’t really hit it off. Perhaps he sensed a whiff of disapproval. While I love his crazy and demented series, I am kind of repulsed by his playing B.F.F. with these troubled women. I picked it up on the reunion shows, but his Watch What Happens really cinched it for me. He’s icky. And who goes after school kids singing on the Oscars?

Oh look, Paul’s back. And up close you can see that his concealer and base are perfectly applied. He was a big star before The Real Housewives of D.C., didn’t I know that? And now he has one of those red carpet fashion critique shows on BET with Vivica Fox. I was trying to stay interested when I noticed he was touching me. And then it happened again. Witnesses will confirm that celebrity stylist Paul Wharton was flirting with me! This is the party of the century.

It was time to crack the big nut, Cat. She was in a leopard print Alice & Olivia dress that was pretty darn tight; age inappropriate must have been the dress memo I missed. She had her father in tow, fresh off the plane from London (or just outside London), but thankfully not either of her two young girls. They were present at one of the season’s most disturbing episodes, when Cat had it out with one of Stacie’s friends over her mean girl status. I watched it again this weekend to refresh my memory (I have most The Real Housewives of D.C. saved permanently on my DVR, don’t you?) and I must report it is one of the most reprehensible reality moments of all time, from a child welfare perspective. Thanks, Andy.

Anyway, Cat was all excited with her new book, which was self-published in soft cover. I asked her if she regretted doing the show, since it seemed to have cost her a marriage.

“Let me tell you something, darling—my husband’s manager was the one who told me to do the show. That’s the real story.”

We bought three copies (well, we were going to steal one but I outed Susan, who had put one in her bag for me—for research) and waited for her to autograph them, reading the synopsis. I wish I had the stamina to re-type the whole bloody thing but here are a few choice little morsels:

“Having swapped English countryside for a manor house in the Mediterranean sun… husband, kids and animals, she lived the paradise dream—until a chance meeting with a beautiful, married (UH OH) Swiss banker was to turn her heart inside out… She crossed the line of her gilded cage to rendezvous across the world with him, leading to explosive consequences… She could never go home.”

“…reinventing herself in the most expensive city in the world…but she didn’t ‘do’ compromise.”

“The new life flitted from private jets, super yachts, and playboys to…suicidal nights in ER.”

We found that the best way to enjoy the synopsis was to sing it to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

Inside, the book pages appeared to have been laid out in Microsoft Word, with the titillating inclusion of little screen grabs of text messages from, presumably, the playboys, husband, and Swiss banker. I haven’t yet read the thing.

Cat was on! She wanted to party! During her speech, where all the words kind of slurred together into a British word paste, she invited us to the after-party at the gay sports-themed bar Boxers.

We caught up with Lynda, who wondered if we had heard about Micheale Salahi joining the cast of Celebrity Rehab (we had). She looked us intently in the eye, which we liked, and then Ebong came bounding over to stand by her side. I guess we liked Lynda the best.

Stacie was a late arrival. She came without her gay marriage-unfriendly husband and I was a teensy bit relieved. Unable to resist trying out for “the gay guy who stirs the pot” role, I told her that Mary was having trouble unloading her McClean manse. (Has anyone besides me noticed that starring in a Real Housewives show is alarmingly often a precursor to having to downsize and sell your house? Shouldn’t being on the show bring you improved fortune?) Did Stacie have any advice?

“She should lower the price.” Meow. Did we mention that Stacie was also wearing some kind of animal print top?

We decided to hot foot it, lest anyone suspect our intentions were anything less than honorable; we had been giggling a lot. Over dinner, we compared notes.

On the way home, we stumbled upon Boxers, where Cat’s after-party was taking place. I mean, wouldn’t you? Cat by now was in full slur, and thrilled to see us. Her father was still with her looking very frail. While go-go boys in square-cut bathing suits wiggled their stuff behind her, Cat grabbed the microphone to thank everyone for coming, but kind of got off on a tangent.  “Well fuck the Salahis, they’re in rehab, fuck the Salamis, fuck fuck fuck…”

What a perfect evening.

I’d go on about the American Cancer Society lunch, but I’m exhausted, aren’t you? See the pictures if you want to hear more about it.


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