George Plimpton | Garry Shandling | Caroline Kennedy | Pill Dropper | Blues Filmfest | Soap in a Lather

George Plimpton Was Behind New Capote Project

Two deaths were reported in the world of the famous today: writer George Plimpton, who was 76, and singer-songwriter Robert Palmer, 54.

For those of you who know Palmer from his hits such as "Simply Irresistible" or "Addicted to Love," I implore you to pick up a copy of his seminal 1974 album, "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley."

This was such a hip and hot record when it came out, and it holds up brilliantly. What a shame that he has gone too soon.

I saw George Plimpton three times in the past ten days, first at Tina Brown's party for her TV show, and then at the book party for Madeleine Albright.

The final instance, ironically, was at Elaine's, his home joint, the place where a bust of him sits high on a shelf peering out over everyone who comes into that famed dining room. I said something to him about it recently, and he kind of winced.

"I'm a little embarrassed it's still there," he said, but you knew he wasn't.

Years ago, Plimpton conducted interviews with the late Truman Capote about the latter's work on "In Cold Blood," the famous book about two Kansas murderers sent to death row.

 I can tell you that director-writer Douglas McGrath, who directed "Nicholas Nickleby" last year and "Emma" with Gwyneth Paltrow, is working on a new movie based on Capote's interviews with the killers. McGrath told me a couple of weeks ago he'd optioned Plimpton's work and was excited about telling the story of Capote's time in Kansas covering the murders.

I ran into Plimpton later that same night at Elaine's and we talked about it. As someone who'd seen his work go to the movies before (see the great "Paper Lion," with Alan Alda playing Plimpton) he was hopeful but restrained about the prospects. He did tell me that all of his sports writing was going to be published in a collected edition soon.

Plimpton's influence on writers in the late 20th century is incalculable. Through his publication, The Paris Review, he launched countless writers and careers. The many accolades and eulogies should start soon from the most famous of them.

Many fond memories exist of the drunken revelry at his East Side townhouse, where the Paris Review parties were legendary fun. When you say someone will be sorely missed, it's often a token gesture. This time it's really true.

Garry Shandling Spells It Out

Yes, that was comedian Garry Shandling trying really hard to make a special friend at the HBO Emmy party on Sunday night.

He spent a good amount of time spelling his name for a beautiful young Asian woman.

"That's S-H-A-N-D-L-I-N-G," he said. What did they have in common? The "ling" part, he said.

But even this did not move the woman. She'd never heard of him, so he told her that he owned several homes.

"You should come see them," he said. That didn't go over very well.

Next up was a buxom blonde, about twice the size of the Asian, whom Shandling pressed with all his best lines. You had to give him credit for trying, but there were no fish biting even for a former TV star. (Apparently neither lady had seen "Larry Sanders" on HBO.)

That was all at the Emmys! You remember them, dontcha? It's been five days; can you name one of the winners?

I can: Joe Pantoliano, who picked up Best Supporting Actor for The Sopranos. Joey Pants, as he's known, gave the best pre-Emmy party last Saturday night. All of his friends, his beautiful wife Nancy Sheppard, and the cast of his new show "The Handler" stopped by to salute him.

No fool, Joey — who still didn't believe he had a chance to win an Emmy — gave equal time to Pat O'Brien of "Access Hollywood" and a film crew from Pat's competitor "Extra."

The next night, he worked the red-carpet press line like a pro in his blue-on-blue tux and came up a winner. But most of us knew he was one long ago!

Caroline Kennedy Rocks Central Park

You've read or heard about the big free Dave Matthews Band concert that took place on Wednesday night in Central Park. It was sponsored by AOL, formerly the first name in Time Warner. Their intentions were the best, of course — to help schoolkids.

But the ironies abound. Who should be one of the prime supporters of the concert but Caroline Kennedy, head of the city's Department of Education/Office of Strategic Partnerships. Kennedy, famously, took the position without salary several months ago.

The show, titled AOL's Concert for the Schools, raised more than $2 million on behalf of New York City's education system.

The irony, of course, is that Time Warner has just built a gigantic new edifice in Columbus Circle, right where Jacqueline Kennedy, Caroline's late great mom, worked hard to prevent a skyscraper.

It was Jackie who got a study done which found a skyscraper would cast shadows into Central Park and hurt the park environment. That's the reason that the new structure, which will open shortly, consists of two towers separated by a huge space.

Caroline's mother wasn't the only member of her family concerned with preserving New York City history, by the way. Her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, who came to the Dave Matthews concert with his wife, is the guiding force behind the computerization of data stored at Ellis Island. (Schlossberg also designed all the helpful interactive monitors in and around the World Trade Center.)

The Ellis Island project has been a huge help to anyone whose relatives came through the immigration center, which operated from 1892 to 1954.

When I talked with Schlossberg, an admitted Dave Matthews fan, at the AOL-sponsored buffet during the Matthews concert, he gave me an update. It turns out that he's now in the process of putting all New York immigration info dating back to around 1830 into the Ellis Island system. Soon it will no longer be necessary to hunt all over town for genealogical data.

"We're also adding other ports where ships brought people in, like Baltimore and Boston," Schlossberg said. This is an enormous undertaking, and one that can only be applauded.

The Kennedy-Schlossbergs weren't the only celebs who turned out for the big Central Park show. Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Dave Eigenberger (Steve from "Sex and the City"), a contingent of MTV execs (Tom Freston, Judy McGrath), Infinity Broadcasting's John Sykes and Time Warner's popular chairman Richard Parsons all nibbled on the gourmet picnic served under the stars.

Someone's Missing His Sleeping Pills

A few days before the lovefest in Central Park, writer Karin Yapalater reminded us how dangerous the park used to be. She's just publishing a novel called "An Hour to Kill," subtitled "A Psycho Sexual Thriller Set in Central Park."

Luckily, Dave Matthews was not sent a copy before his show. But a group of Yapalater's pals toasted her last week, first at Elaine's and then with a dinner at Café Nosidam.

Here's the group: People magazine founder Dick Stolley, movie producer David Brown and his wife, Helen Gurley Brown, the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan, famed photographer Harry Benson, Broadway producers Anita Waxman and Francine LeFrak, screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, RKO Pictures chief Ted Hartley (who's also married to Dina Merrill), Time Warner honcho Ann Moore, Entertainment Weekly's Pete Bonventure, model-turned-author Janice Dickinson and bestseller Stuart Woods.

Now quick: Which one of these tony types dropped an empty vial of Ambien, the trendy prescription sleep aid, on Second Avenue in front of Elaine's? Can you guess? Sorry. Only Elaine and I know the answer, and we're not telling.

Blues Films Something to Cry About

Starting Sunday, PBS is supposed to air seven films about the blues, all under the umbrella of director Martin Scorsese. His own film airs first, on Sunday night, and I will watch it with great interest.

The last one, by Clint Eastwood, is said not to be finished yet. But knowing Eastwood, he'll make his deadline for the Oct. 4 broadcast.

That said, I did see two of the films this week in Los Angeles, and I will tell you about them. But take this as a warning: I cannot be objective about either Wim Wenders' "The Soul of A Man" or Richard Pearce's "Road to Memphis."

This music is my personal interest, and so are the people attached to it. That's why I helped produce a film that already had a theatrical release this year concerning a similar subject.

Of the two films I saw, the most egregious had to be the Wenders project.

Originally made for Swedish TV, "The Soul of A Man" is about soulful as cheese. The first bad thing about it comes in the opening moments. For some reason, Wenders — who is highly overrated as a film director — gives us outer space and a walk on the moon. Why? Who knows?

This is followed by nearly two wasted hours of re-enactments (actors playing dead blues musicians) and lots of white performers playing the blues. Garland Jeffreys tries to do a tribute to Skip James, but Wenders — as he does with all the performances — cuts away right in the middle of it. Would it be too much to let these people sing a whole song?

Richard Pearce's "Road to Memphis" is interesting, but it's a mess. Too much is stuffed in here, and then again, not enough. B.B. King is treated to a lot of coverage, but you don't get to hear much of his music.

Then there's Bobby Rush, a kind of fourth-tier star of the "chitlin" circuit, who's used as counterpoint to King. But it's a stretch, and the reason for Rush's involvement is never quite explained.

There is a strange and disquieting dialogue between Ike Turner and the late Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, which doesn't do much for either's already controversial reputation. (Imagine using Ike Turner as a sympathetic character in a film!)

Somehow, "The Road to Memphis" goes on and on for almost two hours without ever mentioning Stax Records. How weird is that? Pearce — who's made fine films such as "Heartland," "The Long Walk Home" and "A Family Thing" — missed the boat here in a big way.

PBS seems to be throwing a lot of money into the promotion of this exercise, and I wish them well. Maybe some of the music will rub off on a new audience.

But it's too bad this pair of films wastes valuable time futzing around with a lot of drivel when so much more could have been accomplished. We can only hope the other films are better.

And get this: Not included in this blues marathon is a film of the big extravaganza I witnessed at Radio City Music Hall last spring with hours and hours of performances. Director Antoine Fuqua hasn't finished that episode yet. For all we know, he's still over at the Music Hall, filming participants.

P.S.: For some really great soul, check out Aretha Franklin's "So Damn Happy," her new Arista album.

Soap in a Lather

If you ever wondered whether Michael Hoffman and Robert Harling's hysterically funny movie, "Soapdish" was true, trust me — it was right on the money.

Right now the best soap plot in town is over at ABC Daytime, where sources say new chief Brian Frons is on a rampage to keep the ratings down. The word is that "One Life to Live," which won the Emmy for best show in 2002, is in a free-fall with lots of favorite characters suddenly dying of mysterious ailments.

Popular Angela Shapiro, now head of ABC's Family Channel, is missed most seriously.