"I ADMIT--I WAS kind of offended when I saw that I'd been left out of Frank Langella's new book 'Dropped Names.' But then I realized everybody in it was dead!"
This is what an ebullient, smiling Mayor Mike Bloomberg remarked at the subtly sweet gathering in the Plaza Athenee to celebrate Langella's trenchant memories of the rich and famous. Langella -- tall, subdued and sincere -- responded: "You'll definitely be in my next book!" Mayor Mike responded, "Uh, not too soon, I hope!"
The party had a selective guest list invited by Langella's longtime friend Barbara Walters and Harper Collins' Jonathan Burnham. When Barbara spoke, she told the story of how Broadway's Langella had asked her for tapes and stories about Richard Nixon, whom he was about to play in the movies. Barbara told him that the former president always walked as if "he were kind of constipated."
Big laughs all around. Ms. Walters had invited a good group so that things were chock full -- but not too full -- of VIPs: numero uno Internet chief Barry Diller, actress Marlo Thomas, Phil Donohue who always announces "I'm the husband!" and looks the same as he did 30 years ago. (When Marlo was complimented on her own youthful looks she said, "Well, that's what I do!") And there was Broadway's most urbane and effective press agent, Adrian Bryan-Brown, literary agent Lynn Nesbit, the creative producer Julian Schlossberg, man about town, the handsome Gil Shiva, the delightful food philanthropist Lauren Veronis, "The View's" liberal voice Joy Behar, and on and on. I had a chat with Barbara's producer Bill Geddie who is being named Texas ex this year by the U of T. Then I had an especially entertaining time with the talented writer Elaine May. (And if Marlo doesn't get a Tony nomination for her recent turn in Elaine's play " George Is Dead" --well, there's no justice.)
The most dramatic entrance at this event came from the great opera star Jessye Norman, who arrived swathed in an enormous cloud of wild black hair, a glittering something or other and massive dangling earrings. No doubt about it, she's a star!
"What are you up to now?" asked one fan. "What am I NOT up to, darling!" said Jessye, and then she was swept into the arms of another opera diva, the popular and serene Renee Fleming. This beauty was with Literacy Partners' friend Peter Brown. (I had to laugh as these divas were accosted by people asking them for free opera tickets, as if such a thing exists these days.)
The star of all this, Mr. Langella, has segued from the flamboyant and sexy Dracula to the aforesaid Richard Nixon and has even portrayed Bill Paley onscreen (not to neglect his Sir Thomas More in "A Man for All Seasons" on Broadway and all the other things he does so well, for instance -- Noel Coward.)
But who knew he could write so frankly and touchingly as he has done in this memoir of those whose lives touched his? He was in a charming, understated mood at this party as opposed to his usual wisecracking posture.
By the way, not everyone in "Dropped Names" is dead. Langella's very special friend, Bunny Mellon is over 100 and still with us. His story about a lunch with the Mellons, JFK and Jackie Kennedy is really something!
The mayor looked particularly youthful at the mike, given his many civic problems. He touched on how his own autobiography had once caused the New York Times to critique him as having written "too positively." Said Mike: "Well, if you can't be positive in your own book about your life, when can you be positive?!"
The last of the print gossips, Cindy Adams, was complimented on her enduring glamour and
wisecracked: "It's dark in here, baby. It's always better in the dark!" Cindy, never a shrinking violet, also exhorted her friend Barbara to "Speak louder!"
Read Frank Langella's "Dropped Names." Two weeks ago I had already given it a rave! It's the most amazing "memoir" in recent show business history. And Frank wrote it himself.
Speculation is rife, from Meryl Streep to Stephen Spielberg to George Clooney, because this award has gone only to three other people in 108 years of Friars Club laughter. (The three? Douglas Fairbanks, Sr...Cary Grant...Frank Sinatra)
Tickets are going from the cheapest, around $1000, to $100,000 tables. You can call 212- 751-7272. Maybe this "little" event will lay to rest once and for all time the stories, rumors, weird beliefs and absurdity that Tom Cruise is "finished...all washed up." (He has four movies upcoming, including "Rock of Ages" and the Jack Reacher thriller, "One Shot.") Let's relax and give Tom his due as one of moviedom's greatest and most effective box office stars. And a terrific, underrated actor.
Forget about people's religions. Then we'll all be better off.