There are Wednesdays at Michael’s and then there are Wednesday’s at Michael’s. Today was one of those days. I could hardly keep up with the steady stream of famous faces that sailed past my table and made for some of the best people watching at 55th and Fifth in a long time. First came early arrival Montel Williams, who kept himself busy with ear buds and his phone. Next came Joy Behar (who I didn’t notice until she took off her sunglasses) and two pals who were waiting for another person to join them. A little birdie told me the mystery guest was going to be none other than Barbara Walters, so I kept an eye on the door for what seemed like forever in hopes of grabbing a quick chat with her before she made it to her table. Minutes before Barbara arrived Sigourney Weaver showed up looking absolutely ageless in Prada (and from what I could tell, next to no makeup). The Oscar nominated actress (we loved her best as Ripley!) and The New York Botanical Garden’s biggest cheerleader was clearly concerned she’d kept her guest waiting because she’d gotten stuck in traffic so she dashed by before I could utter a word to her. Drats. When Barbara, who was impeccably dressed in black and white, finally arrived, Michael’s chivalrous GM Steve Millington was waiting by the door to take her by the arm and personally escort her to her table. Let me tell you, a real hush fell over the room when the world’s most famous semi-retiree made her way into the dining room. Throughout lunch, plenty of well-wishers, both famous and “civilians,” stopped by her table to pay their respects.
After making my rounds in the dining room and having made sure Barbara, Joy and their friend had finished their lunch, I made my way over to their table. When I told Barbara that her final appearance on The View, where she was joined by what seemed like every female broadcaster who has followed in her trail-blazing footsteps, including all her View cohosts as well as Jane Pauley, Katie Couric, Deborah Norville, Connie Chung, Joan Lunden and Oprah Winfrey (who managed to score the center square in the iconic photo of the seismic sorority) was one of daytime television’s most memorable moments, she took my hand and squeezed it. “I’m so glad,” she said. “It was really something.” Even more moving, I told her, was her two-hour special that aired last Friday night, where her long-time producing partner Bill Geddie interviewed her about her amazing life and ground-breaking career. What was it like to be the subject rather than the interviewer? “Bill was terrific,” she told me. “We didn’t want to have it be ‘then she did this and then she did that’ so we did it that way. I’m glad everyone seemed to like it.” I had so many questions I wanted to ask, but didn’t want to overstay my tenuous welcome (it’s a bit of a delicate dance sometimes) so I left the trio to order dessert. No word on what Barbara has planned for the summer but in her column in The New York Post this week, Cindy Adams wrote that she and Barbara planned to travel abroad together this summer. I’d say Ms. Walters has more than earned some time off after her long good-bye.
I was joined today by my friend, the tireless and terrific Dr. Phillip Romero, who I met at Michael’s years ago through our mutual friend Barry Frey. The “Other Dr. Phil” is a brilliant family therapist, who, when not helping Manhattanites sort out their various issues, is deeply committed to bring his message of healing and hope through art to the masses, which he explored in his book, The Art Imperative. Now he’s taken his theories a giant step further with his latest endeavor, the smART Peace Prize whose logo says it all: ART=SURVIVAL.
His recently launched website of the same name announcing the online art contest is the centerpiece of “a new global arts movement” designed to “inspire artists to take action against human destructiveness using social media.” Phillip explained it this way: “Throughout history, we have overcome toxic stress through art. When we focus creativity to share experiences and ideas, we become more resilient. We need that now more than ever.” In making social media an integral part of his initiative, he believes, “We are targeting a generation of people who have the power to create change in the world and understand the increasingly important role social media plays in our culture.” The contest, open to artists in the United States (“We will be going international at some point”), invites entrants to submit photographs of art online in any form that depicts the effects of “human destruction” in one of four areas: self and family, the community, culture or the environment. The contest will officially launch in January of next year with four semi-finalists selected each quarter by a panel of judges and via online voting open to the public. The semi-finalists will then compete for one $20,000 prize (which will be awarded annually) and the opportunity to sell their art on the smART Peace Prize website. A pilot program set to launch this summer will select four semi-finalists who will compete for a multi-media campaign produced by the SmART Peace Prize committee to promote their art. Phillip has assembled an impressive roster of experts for his board of directors including producer Russ Kagan, artist Ricardo Mazel, author and adjunct professor of behavioral neuroscience Dahlia Ziedel, PhD, who will also serve as jury for the competition.
“The idea came to me because there is no Nobel Prize for art,” explained Phillip. “Today art has devolved into a commodity. This movement was created to get the next generation involved in art as a force for social change. Art is meant to help us slow down, reflect and connect. It’s a calm-connect-create for the brain and our culture.” Of his decision to focus on art that depicts the various incarnations of “human destructiveness” Phillip told me: “In the era where it has become ‘fun’ to be destructive, this is a movement shows us the effects of that. The art can help us heal.” Phillip also believes strongly in bringing art to young children in order to have them understand it cultural importance. “All children need art. Our American culture dampens our natural art making ability. Other countries value it much more highly. We need to bring that back.”
After lunch Phillip was headed to the studio to edit the documentary, ART=SURVIVAL, that he is producing to accompany the project. He recently interviewed Noble Prize winner Dr. Eric Kandel at the Neue Gallery. “Our conversation was an exciting exploration of Eric’s mind linking mind, science and art.” Phillip’s passion for the project is palpable. “This will be my legacy. It can carry on forever. It’s a movement of creativity against human destruction. I’m the anti-Nobel. He invented dynamite, but he’s my inspiration.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller and Penske Media’s vice chair Gerry Byrne, presiding over their monthly lunch. In attendance: Todd Polkes, producer of Meredith Vieira’s upcoming talk show; Terri Edelman, president of The Edelman Group; AMC Networks’ adviser Kim Martin; Lancome’s Alessio Rossio; Ali Galgano, founder and CEO of Charmandchain.com; Megan Matthews, SVP, HL Group; Dr. Cooper Lawrence, co-host of WPLJ’s The Todd Show; Samantha Skey of Sheknows.com; Jim McCann, founder and chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com (We knew we knew him from somewhere!); and Hollywoodlife’s Carolyn Fanning.
2. Montel Williams and a mystery brunette that literally seemed to float to their table
3. Barbara Walters, Joy Behar and two other gals we didn’t get to meet
4. Sigourney Weaver and an elegant white-haired lady we didn’t recognize
5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
6. Dr. Gearld Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Michael Kramer who was dashing off to the airport and on his way to London. Cheerio!
7. Dr. Phillip Romero and yours truly
8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia with Tracey Jackson and songwriter Paul Williams
9. Agent Lynn Nesbitt
10. Howell Raines, who waited patiently for his date, book seller Glenn Horowitz to arrive. We tried to find a moment to ask the former New York Times editor to weigh in on Jill Abramson’s departure, but today’s celebrity scrum took over.
11. Mickey Ateyeh, who I lunched with last week, and Julie Browne, SVP of MCM. Julie tells me the luxe logoed collection is opening a swanky new store in Soho this fall. We’ll be sure to stop by…
12. Radical Media’s Bob Friedman and a table full of young movers and shakers
14. Jim Abernathy; Chapter Two: Joan Juliet Buck
15. Lew Korman
16. Fashionista Fern Mallis, who was kind enough to introduce me to Tracy Reese, whose fun, feminine and flirty designs I’ve long admired. This week none other than Sarah Jessica Parker wore one of Tracy’s abstract print dresses to the White House, where she joined Michelle Obama at a charity event-talent show for children. Just thought you’d like to know.
17. Lanky Luke Janklow
18. The Early Show: John Sykes; Act two: Anthony Shriver who slipped in practically unnoticed amid a sea of famous faces
20. Marketing guru and political commentator Robert Zimmerman and Page Six’s editor Emily Smith
21. Quest’s Chris Meigher
22. Matt Rich
23. Steven Greenberg
24. Euan Rellie
25. PR maestro Tom Goodman and Peter Costiglio of LexisNexis
26. The perennially chic Elizabeth Harrison and Kate Betts
27. Town & Country’s EIC Jay Fielden
28. David Poltrack of CBS News
29. Christine Varney
81. Fox News’ Eric Shawn
82. Rich Gelfand
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.