Last January, as I tooled around Washington going to inaugural balls, gigantic state-sponsored festivals, hotel-based luxury suites, and super-dumb eco events, I would repeatedly bump into other journalists and photographers I knew trolling the same beat, and we'd compare notes on who was going to what. Invitations and access were currency that weekend, and everyone was talking about the Huffington Post's huge party at the Newseum, which featured a hanging laptop as decor which made up for in size what it lacked in irony.
But when I ran into power brokers and A-listers, they were all going to the much quieter event Tina Brown was hosting for her infant site Daily Beast at the French Embassy. I didn't get invited, but I assiduously read my morning papers and D.C. gossip Web sites to see what went down, but it didn't garner much media, which of course made me wish I had gone even more.
No one can deny that Tina in her day was the Pearl Mesta of media events. Her Vanity Fair party invitations were always wildly sought after, as was access to the smaller gatherings she held non-stop at her town house. My old boss Clay Felker told me about them, and said they were better than the ones he hosted when he was the young editor of New York. I remember a Fashion Week party she held for The New Yorker at a rundown Broadway theater that Robert Isabell transformed into a madhouse. She was trying to shake the cobwebs off the magazine's image. It worked. And of course there was her legendary Talk magazine launch at the Statue of Liberty, which was more like a military offensive, what with motor launches, fireworks, and a Macy Gray concert. Of course Talk eventually folded, instantly turning the most successful media event ever (although I was not alone in thinking it was maybe a little dark walking around) into a fable of excess.
I attended her annual Golden Globes eve party a few times. It was that weekend's highlight and I remember catching her eye at the last one, held just days before the announcement of Talk's demise. It was at the check-in table, which was a bit of a zoo, truth be told. (Though the amazing gift bags on the way out made you forget the ignominy of arrival.) Looking back, she must have known, or at least sensed, that something was afoot, but that night she was all business, giving orders while simultaneously acknowledging guests with head nods. John Wayne has nothing on that dame when it comes to the grit department.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when she turned a modest benefit, lecture, and book signing for Alexandra Penney's The Bag Lady Papers, held Wednesday at the Graduate Center of CUNY and benefiting Women in Need, into an announcement of a bigger event being held this March.
The Daily Beast is hosting a three-day summit called Women in the World, a dizzying mix of party and politics that I'm exhausted just from reading about, but I will try to explain. There are international political and social issue discussions, with the likes of Madeleine Albright, Katie Couric, Cherie Blair, Barbara Walters, and Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan. The first night there is a dramatic staged reading of Seven, a documentary play that tells the stories of seven women from, yep, you guessed it, seven different countries. It's directed by Julie Taymor and will feature non-amateur Meryl Streep. Tina apparently saw it two years ago in an NYU production and thought it would be nice to restage it, this time with a little more amperage I suppose. The next night there is an awards gala hosted by Diane Von Furstenburg. The entire summit is headquartered at the Hudson Theatre March 12 to 14.
This is heady stuff to be sure. Expect discussions about that 12-year-old Pakistan slave/maid murdered by her boss/owner, the deaths of Haitian women's movement leaders, all goosed with the gossamer of fame that is Tina Brown's trademark. Her announcement blog post says the event is still seeking sponsors and participants, so if somebody reading here wants to reach smart, wealthy women, now's your chance.
“Tina has her power back,” Alexandra told me over drinks after the event. “Isn't it exciting?”
Ms. Penney also has her mojo back. She appeared Wednesday morning on Good Morning America to tell the story of how The Bag Lady Papers (published by Voice, a Hyperion imprint) was born. Last December she got a call first from a friend, then from her son, informing her that Bernard had Madeoff with her nest egg. After calling the U.S. Treasury (they called her back) and taking the one tranquilizer she had in the house (she called her doctor the next day to get more), she woke up, got dressed (white shirt, down jacket with fur trim, gold earrings her mother gave her), and marched herself over to Madoff's office, where she rallied angrily with others in fur in the lipstick building lobby. Unfortunately, the doormen had little to offer in the way of consolation and even less in the form of reparations. So Alexandra called Tina Brown and they hatched the idea of a blog to tell the story of her lost fortune, and her forced return to the world of writing.
She is my friend, so don't rely on me to tell you the book is funny and riveting as she haggles with her landlord to lower the rent, wonders if she can learn to iron a shirt, and looks through her selection of handbags, wondering how much she can get for them on eBay. Buy it and find out for yourself.