The Cosmo 100: Joanna Coles Rallies the Troops

A lunch with the most accomplished and influential women in media, entertainment, business and politics.

lunch at michaelsFear not faithful “Lunch” readers, Monday is not the new Wednesday, but this week I ventured over to Michael’s to attend an estrogen-infused power lunch to end all power lunches — the Cosmo 100. The brainchild of Cosmopolitan’s smart, funny and fearless editor Joanna Coles, the gathering was first held a few years back when Joanna took the helm at Cosmo and wanted to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that she was (re)making the title her own.

At the inaugural luncheon, Joanna had vowed to make the event an annual thing, but having missed last year she confessed, “I just couldn’t get my shit together.” We highly doubt that. Corralling the 100 plus (hence the name) of the most accomplished and influential women in media, entertainment, business and politics couldn’t have been any easy feat, but if anyone can rally the troops, Joanna can.

And what a rallying cry it was. Sure, on the surface the Cosmo 100 is a glittering gathering of famous faces, boldface names, politicos, and multi-million dollar contracts, but it’s so much more than that. Among the attendees: Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox (first to arrive and stunning in a red dress, dripping in gold jewelry and fur stole), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Katie Couric, Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King, Amy Robach, Cynthia McFadden, Ali Wentworth, Deborah Turness, Jane Rosenthal, Jennifer Salke, Sherri Weston, Candace Cameron Bure, Christine Quinn, Vanessa Friedman, Leslie Sloane, Meryl Poster, Peggy Siegal, Charlotte Jones, make-up mavens Trish McEvoy and Bobbi Brown and Hearst’s Ellen Levine. I joked to one guest that while I recognized plenty of A-listers the rest of the crowd probably consisted of women ‘who could buy and sell’ all of us. In truth, they were women who could save us — or at least die trying.

Let me explain: Every woman there seemed to be on a mission of critical importance.

When I first arrived, I ran into my Greenwich neighbor Joan Lunden. I’d not seen Joan in person since last year when she was in the throes of her very public and hard-fought battle against breast cancer. After receiving her diagnosis in June 2014, Joan turned her personal battle into a one woman public awareness campaign on the real effects — physicial, emotional and personal — the disease has on a woman’s life. She told me she did 21 appearance in 15 states for her book, If I Had Known, in which she chronicled her struggle and — wait for it — she’s now hard at work on her next book. All the details are top secret for now but I’m betting it’s an inspirational tome. How could it not be?

Everyone who remembers Joan from her days on Good Morning America knows that beneath her sunny disposition (“I’ve always been a glass half-full person”) is one strong woman. Cancer only served to strenghten her resolve, but today she shared with me what might be the most unsettling side effect of the disease — perpetual uncertainty. “I’m not back to my old self and I don’t know if I ever will be,” she said with her daughter, Jamie Krauss at her side. “They don’t tell you about the side effects from undergoing a really agressive course of chemotherapy. It’s an eye-opener.”

Even with all that she was dealing with, Joan’s first instinct was to share her knowledge and experience with other women battling the disease. “I kept asking myself, ‘Is it me?’ when things would happen during treatment. I thought, the more honest I can be talking about all this, the more I can help someone else.” I told her I marveled at the videos she put up on Facebook throughout her treatment (she shared virtually every aspect online) which served as the inspiration for her new streaming network, Alive, which focuses on breast cancer and other women’s health issues. When I mentioned I’d been particularly impressed by her video where she tried on a series of different wigs, putting a decidedly different spin on the usually somewhat traumatic experience, she told me, “I haven’t gotten rid of my wigs yet. It’s all still too fresh.” Joan, we salute you.

I spotted Katie Couric across the room and went over to chat. Yahoo’s global news anchor is as busy as ever. She covered President Obama’s address last night and she’s slated to interview Donald Trump later this week. Katie is also set to announce some big news about her new documentary, Under the Gun, which takes on the all too timely topic of gun violence in America, so stay tuned for that. Two years in the making, Katie serves as the film’s executive producer and narrator.

Almost an hour had gone by and the overflow crowd was so busy catching up with one another they hadn’t even tried to make their way back to the Garden Room for lunch. At 1 o’clock Joanna took matters into her own hands and grabbed the microphone commanding everyone to take their seats so she could get everyone out by 2 p.m. Once everyone got settled, Joanna told the crowd, “I love the smell in here. It’s a mix of Christmas and Botox.” After a short and salty monolgue which included shots at Bill Cosby and Ben Carson (you just had to be there), she got down to business. “Raise your hand if you’ve had a challenging year.” More hands than not went up. “Well, it’s been a tough year for women,” she said.

To bring home the point she asked Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood to address the group. “This is a precarious moment for women,” said Cecile. “We can either leap forward or roll back 50 years.” Interrupted by frequent applause, Cecile recounted her conversation with the staffers credited with saving lives at the Colorado Springs clinic where three people were killed last month. “The stigma around abortion has never been worse,” she said. “And if we lose the rights over our body, that’s just the beginning.”

After lunch, former Orlando police chief Val Demings took to the floor and held the group’s rapt attention as she explained why she is running for congress. Violent crime fell a stunning 40 percent during her tenure as police chief and she spent 27 years with the department. Suffice to say she seems more than up to the task. “We need more women in congress,” she said. “Because women are good at cleaning up messes.” No argument here.

Sure enough, a few minutes before 2 p.m., everyone started to say their goodbyes. The holiday cookie plates went uneaten, but no one left without their goodie bag, which contained a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. A power lunch indeed.

@DianeClehane Diane Clehane is Adweek's weekly 'Lunch' columnist.