Where to begin? Michael’s was especially lively today, with a head-spinning mashup of mavens of every stripe, moguls and boldface names—but with the added bonus of some serious star power. None other than Shirley MacLaine was first to arrive in the dining room today, giving me the perfect opportunity to grab the Academy Award winner for a quick chat. Contrary to what you may think, it’s not easy to just go up to a Hollywood legend and strike up a conversation, so I had to think fast. After I said my hello, I quickly added that we’d met at Michael’s a few years back when she stopped in to present Liz Smith with her grey armadillo-shaped birthday cake. She remembered! “That was one ugly cake,” she smiled. I asked her if she was going to reprise her role as Martha Levinson, mother of Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and sparring partner of Maggie Smith’s Violet on the final season of Downton Abbey. Her answer: “No. There’s too many characters on that show!” And with that, she sailed over to her table.
I was joined today by multitasking philanthropist and real estate broker extraordinaire Ross Ellis. She’s one of those women who accomplishes more before lunch than mere mortals do in a week. Ross started her week driving out to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to accept a $50,000 check from the Jets, presented by president Neil Glat, to STOMP Out Bullying, the leading national bullying and cyberbullying prevention nonprofit for kids and teens she started in 2005. The presentation was the highlight of the Jets’ first Anti-Bullying Awareness Day, complete with the airing on the jumbotron of a PSA with the team’s (now injured) wide receiver Eric Decker. Ross told me the Jets organization has been steadfast in its support of STOMP Out Bullying (“They’re amazing to work with”) and have even partnered with Ross’ organization to distribute 1,000 Educator Bullying Prevention Tool Kits to 1,000 tri-state area schools.
The timing for our lunch was fortuitous, because October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and Monday is Blue Shirt Day World Day of Bullying Prevention (which Ross created). It appears as if she has managed to get all of Manhattan involved. On Monday morning, ABC’s Good Morning America will show a PSA with Robin Roberts, produced by STOMP Out Bullying. The Chew and The FabLife will also be featuring the initiatives. In the evening, she’ll join Taye Diggs as he flips the switch to turn the Empire State Building blue.
A national expert in violence against children, bullying and cyberbullying prevention, school violence and Internet safety, Ross has spoken at schools and communities all over the country about this troubling epidemic. After the suicide of Greenwich high school student Bart Palosz, who was widely reported to have been bullied in school for years, she came up to speak to the town’s Board of Selectmen about preventative measures needed to avoid future tragedies. As a resident of Greenwich and mother of a soon-to-be middle schooler, I say thank you.
Helping children has been a longtime passion for Ross. After a successful career in public relations and public affairs, Ross founded Love Our Children USA in 1999, the national go-to prevention organization fighting all forms of violence and neglect against children. Her work has garnered the support of a long list of A-listers, including Julianne Moore, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Debra Messing. In November, Ross is being honored for her work by The New York Association of Fundraising Professionals at a gala awards ceremony at the Plaza.
Ross runs STOMP Out Bullying all while toiling as an award-winning real estate broker at Halstead Properties in the city. She’s been with the firm for a decade, working with the one percenters looking to buy and sell their palatial properties. A residential broker who does plenty of hand holding of VIPs and celebrities, Ross says she’s constantly arranging for limos and town cars for well-heeled buyers and sellers who could surely afford their own fleet of Mercedes. These days she noted, “There are a lot of foreign buyers who are buying places for investments or to live in when they are in town. The Chinese are buying properties site unseen.”
And they want to be dazzled. Currently, said Ross, hot properties include 432 Park Avenue which, when completed, will be the city’s tallest residential building. The tower being built at 57th Street and Second Avenue is also attracting a lot of interest. But, she says, when it comes to residential real estate: “Everything is hot right now.” I’ll say. The point of entry for 432 Park is a mere $17 million. “Prices go as high as 90 million.” When I asked Ross how her two wildly divergent interests coexist, she explained, “I went into real estate thinking I’d put the commissions back into the charity and I still donate a lot of commissions, but I grew to really love selling real estate.” It’s easy to see why.
As we finished off our bowls of fresh berries for dessert, Ross was telling me about a new book, 100 Making a Difference, which features profiles of extraordinary people who have done extraordinary things in the world. Ross is among those profiled in the title, due to be released some time next year. Michelle Obama and Maria Shriver are in good company.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Penske Media’s Gerry Byrne and Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller presiding over their monthly schmoozefest. In attendance: Amazon’s Kipp Marcus, CBS’ Barbara Abseck and Steven Feldman; Francesca Borgognone, USA Network’s Hilary Smith, Showtime’s Johanna Fuentes (We are eagerly awaiting the season two premiere of The Affair this Sunday), Mimi Lombardo, WWD’s Pete Born and Amber Mundinger.
2. Martin Bandier
3. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Michael Kramer
4. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
5. Herb Siegel
6. Andrew Stein with Shirley MacLaine and a whole table full of folks with something to celebrate. We’re not sure what, but it looked like fun.
7. Seven Global’s president Jason Weisenfeld with fab fashionista Sasha Charnin Morrison
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia
9. Giorgio Armani’s Graziano deBoni
10. PR princess Lynn Tesoro with Patti Cohen. I was thrilled to get the chance to catch up with Patti since she announced her departure from Donna Karan after 31 years (!) as Donna’s right hand (officially, she was an EVP, but you get the picture). Patti was my first boss in the fashion biz way back when Donna was designing Anne Klein with Louis Dell’Olio. I loved every minute of it. Even then, Donna was cooler than cool, hosting after work yoga classes for the staff. This was the ’80s! Now that both Donna and Patti have left the company, she told me she’s “doing some consulting” work for Donna on the launch of the designer’s upcoming book, My Journey, due out from Random House on Oct. 13. And as if you needed another reason to read it, Barbra Streisand wrote the foreward.
11. Lisa Oz (Dr.Oz’s missus)
12. David Blum
14. Bill Hemmer and Wayne Kabak
15. Jerry Inzerillo
16. Jill Sackler
17. Peter Price
18. Jerry Finkelstein
20. Casting director Bonnie Timmermann with Page Six’s Mara Siegler
21. Woody Allen’s collaborator Marshall Brickman with singer Judy Collins. Ms. Collins shielded her face under a wide brimmed black felt fedora with a huge diamante clip (on second thought, it could have been the real thing) throughout lunch, but she couldn’t have been too worried about being noticed. There was a copy of her new CD propped up on the table for a while. When lunch arrived, Marshall and Judy toasted each other with Pellegrino. To the good life!
22. Roger Stephens
23. Robert Manning
24. Thomas Moore
25. PR maestro Tom Goodman and attorney Allan Steyer
26. Loretta Ucelli
27. Ross Ellis and yours truly. When we were about to leave I spotted YA literary legend Judy Blume being escorted to our table for a late lunch with a gentleman we didn’t recognize. I may never sit down in that seat again.
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.