You’d never know hell had officially frozen over if you’d been at Michael’s today. The forsythias were in bloom, a few intrepid media mavens were barelegged (I kid you not) and the power-lunch scene was firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, my date was detained in the studio shooting a popular television show, but I soldiered on into Manhattan, bundled up in my long-forgotten fur coat (No judgment, thank you) that makes me look like Yogi Bear’s wife to make my appointed Wednesday rounds. And it’s a good thing I did. At Table One, Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller had assembled a particularly interesting roster of media types (including CNN’s Christine Romans, AOL’s Brian Balthazar , “Mayor” Joe Armstrong and our own Chris Ariens among them) as well as the requisite reality-show refugee who, in this case, was Jill Zarin. A little birdie told me the former Real Housewives of New York City cast member is getting the Where Are They Now? treatment from none other than Oprah Winfrey for an upcoming episode. The fickle finger of fate has quite the sense of humor.
Before the overflow crowd sat down to discuss Justin Bieber‘s latest contretemps and why Madonna looked like the love child of the Quaker Oats man and Mae West at the Grammys, I spent some time mingling with the crowd. Bonnie introduced me to her 23-year-old daughter Sofia Fuller who was “helping out” at today’s luncheon since Bonnie is currently without a publicist (but not for long, I suspect). Clever Sofia told me that she is “definitely” interested in a career in media and has her heart set on landing something in e-commerce.
While chatting with Chris and Christine, the conversation turned to President Barack Obama‘s State of the Union address. We all agreed the story of Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, an army ranger who was nearly killed during a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, was the evening’s emotional high point. As the president recounted Cory’s incredible tale of survival and personal strength, the wounded warrior looked on from the balcony, where he was seated next to the clearly moved First Lady Michelle Obama.
The president told the story of meeting the energetic, able-bodied solider, who he described as “strong” and “sharp as a tack” during the summer of 2009 at a D-Day anniversary celebration as if he were describing an encounter with an old friend. “We took some pictures and I told him to stay in touch.”
Afterwards, Cory, who enlisted on his 18th birthday in 2003, sustained his life-threatening injuries in October 2009 on his tenth tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was in a coma for three months, remains partially paralyzed and brain damaged and has been fighting his way back ever since. “Like the Army he loves and like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit,” said the president as the entire chamber leapt to its feet for a standing ovation.
What the president didn’t say is how these two men reconnected. Christine told us during a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president was making the rounds visiting patients when he spied a photograph of himself and a soldier and realized the man lying in the bed next to it was Cory. “It was really an incredible moment where, for the first time, the president came face to face with someone he knew that he’d sent off to war and was nearly killed,” said Christine. According to other published reports, Cory is the only wounded service member who has met the president three times.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller and Penske Media’s Gerry Byrne, presiding over a their monthly confab. In attendance: Mediabistro’s VP of editorial Chris Ariens; CNN’s Christine Romans; First Money Media’s Michael Rothman; Pat Werblin, Parlux Fragrance’s VP of advertising, digital marketing and public relations; Marina Maher Communications’ SVP Samara Finn; “Mayor” Joe Armstrong; Joe Fresh’s head designer Paul Sinclaire; Brian Balthazar, executive producer and head of programming for AOL; Gilt Groupe’s CMO Elizabeth Francis; PR maven Maury Rogoff; and Jill Zarin.
2. Eva Mohr of Sotheby’s Realty and two well-dressed gal pals
3. Early bird Montel Williams (who passed the time waiting for his companions plugged in to his phone with an ear piece) with Andrew Stein and another fellow we didn’t recognize
4. CBS This Morning‘s Gayle King and an unidentified gent. Anyone?
5. Esther Newberg
6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Michael Kramer, Andy Bergman and Jeff Greenfield. Since it had been a while since I’d seen Jeff with ‘The Imber Gang,” I went over to say hello and ask politico Jeff what he thought of the president’s speech last night. It turned out the event marked something of a milestone for the former aide to Senator Robert Kennedy and longtime CBS and ABC News contributor. “For the first time in 50 years, I didn’t watch it,” Jeff told me. “I went to a play instead.” For the last few years several websites including Yahoo, have tapped Jeff to cover the Super Bowl of politics, but this year, he said, “Nobody called.” And then: “First I thought about watching it, but then I thought I can catch it later and went to the play. It’s all part of my new life.” These days Jeff spends most of his time in Santa Barbara but, he braved the artic temps because he still has strong ties to New York. “It’s been a while since I’d seen these guys and I’ve still got work and stuff going on so I’m in town to meet my agent and some producers.” We’re glad to see you Jeff, but next time, please bring some of that California weather with you.
7. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia and Ambassador John Loeb
8. Self‘s editrix Lucy Danziger
9. Christine Varney
10. Us Weekly‘s fashion maven Sasha Charnin Morrison, rocking a seriously chic Michael Kors fur trapper hat and PR maestro Jason Weisenfeld
11. CBS This Morning‘s Norah O’Donnell (the net’s cafeteria must be closed) and newly ensconced Michael’s regular Rikki Klieman-Bratton
12. The New York Times scribe and CNBC Squawk Box talker Andrew Ross Sorkin, making good on his mother’s donation of lunch with her savvy son that was won at a charity auction by the three pleasant-looking folks who were with him.
14. Michael J Wolf
15. Actor Robert Wuhl (Arliss) and his brother Evan Wuhl
16. Producer Joan Gelman, radio legend Joan Hamberg and political analyst and marketing man Robert Zimmerman, who slogged his way in from Long Island to join his pals. Sir, we salute you.
17. Judy Price and Chanel’s Barbara Cirkva
18. Armando Ruiz of Art Treats
19. UTA’s Jay Sures
20. PR princess Lisa Linden (loved those darling Roger Vivier flats!) with the utterly charming and elegant Herve Houdre (“Mr. Hospitality,” says Lisa), who presides over Intercontinental Hotels.
21. Tech guru Shelly Palmer
22. “Brand builder” Adam Platzner
23. Tony Hoyt, in from Vermont, with his cousin Nashville resident Caroline Davis
24. Jazz at Lincoln Center’s main man Gordon Davis
25. Aryeh Bourkoff
26. Erica Farber
27. Michael Kassan
28. Marketing maven Shelley Zalis
29. Estee Lauder’s Alexandra Trower, looking tres chic in head-to-toe black
30. Producer Beverly Camhe, who is cooking up a big philanthropic initiative with Variety during the Oscars this year. Stay tuned.
81. IMG Artists’ Jerry Inzerillo
Faces in the crowd: I ran into Stu Zakim who dropped by with his new client jewelry designer Rafka who specializes in one of a kind pieces in diamond and platinum and other precious stones. Not so coincidentally, Michael’s own Loreal Sherman was outfitted in Rafka’s glittering designs today and looked like (a few) million bucks in his platinum and diamond briolette necklace and earrings. In case you’re in the market, pieces from his couture collection range “from the thousands to the millions.” See you next week!
Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.