Book-publication parties are not necessarily dreary affairs.
Last year, Hillary Rodham Clinton had hers at the Four Seasons restaurant, and it was a home run. Years ago, the head of publicity at Crown was renowned for tossing really inventive shindigs you never forgot.
But President Bill Clinton 's publisher, Knopf, is not known for its lively soirées. Last night was no exception.
The publisher of such serious stuff as John Updike and Ann Tyler chose the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as its venue. Why this spot was picked is anyone's guess. The lobby is essentially a concrete pit with no acoustics, a hard, unforgiving floor and no place to sit.
Into this space poured an eclectic and unfortunate mix of people that included actress Lauren Bacall, writer Arthur Schlesinger and his wife Alexandra, a grumpy Fran Lebowitz in sunglasses, mystery writer Walter Mosley, author Gay Talese and his famous editor wife Nan, singer Judy Collins, Ken Burns, Anna Deavere Smith, Andy Rooney, Al Sharpton, Le Cirque's Sirio Maccioni, Pete Hamill, Calvin Trillin and actress Michael Michele.
There were three guests whom I'd call oddities at this particular event: Clinton's Brutus, George Stephanopoulos; his old friend and one-time fundraiser, Patricia Duff (Medavoy Perelman); and former New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli .
Also, Chelsea Clinton's boyfriend, Ian Klaus, who looks like a young Oscar Wilde, was all over the place and seemingly had a bunch of friends in tow.
Media? After being told by a Knopf lackey that there would be little press in the party, it turns out you couldn't swing a cat without hitting some reporter or editor from a network (Don Hewitt from CBS), The Times, the Observer, the New York Post or the Daily News.
Barbara Walters was also there, albeit briefly. And lots of publishing types, such as Knopf's Sonny Mehta and Victoria Wilson. "Good Morning America" was represented by new executive producer Ben Sherwood and longtime senior producer Patty Neger. There were also two producers from the "Today" show and our very own Lisa Bernhard from Fox News.
But movie stars or even people of distinction with buzz potential were few and far between. No Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin or left-leaning celebs who usually stump for Clinton.
Where were they? Where was our beloved Moby, or even a Cuomo or Caroline Kennedy, or the as-advertised Michael Moore? (The only semi-Kennedy was Jackie's former beau Maurice Tempelsman , walking with two canes.)
Only Miramax's Harvey Weinstein had an excuse: he was in Europe with Quentin Tarantino, promoting "Kill Bill: Vol. 2."
I did get 10 seconds of face time with Clinton himself before he made his acceptance, er, uh, promotion speech. He looked tanned and rested and ready to get out there and make sure every one of the 1.5 million pre-ordered copies of "My Life" was sold.
I said, "I wonder if you were disappointed by Gore."
Clinton replied: "I'm disappointed that he lost."
"No," I added, "by the way he conducted his campaign."
Clinton's eyes narrowed. "I don't want to talk politics tonight. It's my night. It's about the book."
I did not get to ask him anything else, such as an explanation for Pardongate. On "60 Minutes" Clinton told Dan Rather that he couldn't find a reason on the "merits" not to have pardoned international oil and metal trader Marc Rich .
Rather never got to ask: How about the fact that Rich had fled the U.S. and was a fugitive who'd remained at large for 17 years and who'd done business with every country prohibited by the U.S.?
I also did not get to ask Clinton about the tax-free foundation for his Arkansas library. Last year, according to tax records, the foundation took in $25 million in donations, roughly three times the amount from the two previous years.
Ten days before the end of his second term, just before the pardon scandal, Clinton received $1 million from an unnamed donor. It remains the single largest contribution so far.
After Clinton made his speech, I went over to pay respects to his wife, Senator Hillary, who had introduced her husband as the "former president, future bestseller, Chelsea's father and my constituent."
Had she read the book?
"Yes, I've read all of it," she said.
Did she read it when it was done or as it was being written?
"He was showing me pieces of it all along," Hillary said.
Their house must be filled with papers, considering her book came out only last year.
"A lot of forests were felled for those books," she laughed, making small talk. (Please, ecologists, it was banter.)
On the way out, I ran into Robert Gottlieb, the famous and revered editor who was dragged over the coals in Sunday's New York Times by book reviewer Michiko Kakutani. Among Gottlieb's many famous accomplishments: editing Joseph Heller's "Catch 22" and Leon Uris's "Mila 18."
So how did Bill Clinton stack up among Gottlieb's many legendary authors?
"He did fine," said the editor. "Of course, I didn't see him that often. But he was very good at taking suggestions. And if he didn't want to do something, he'd come back with a good reason."
So does Gottlieb now know a lot of secrets that didn't make it into "My Life"?
"Yes," he said, with a polite laugh and tilt of his head, "and I can't tell you any of them!"