Nobody has ever accused Sean "P. Diddy" Combs of doing anything the small, elegant way.
His 35th birthday party last night should have been called "The Sweet Smell of Excess."
If nothing else it proves that the rap impresario — who cannot sing, dance or act — is a phenomenon unto himself and has perfected life as a post-millennial Jay Gatsby.
More than 1,500 of Combs' closest friends packed themselves into Cipriani's ballroom last night — the same place where Combs celebrated his birthday five years ago. The event was an elegant black-tie affair, although not everyone adhered to the letter of the law.
Mariah Carey came in a white Vera Wang wedding dress with flowing tulle and sported a diamond tiara. Vivica A. Fox wore a flowing gown and diamonds from a Toronto designer. A tuxedo-wearing Tony Danza looked sheepish when I asked him if he didn't have to get up early to do his show the next morning.
Also spotted in the perfect sea of beautiful — and I mean gorgeous — supermodels and young women with long, long legs: George Hamilton, Ben Chaplin, Carson Daly, Guy Oseary, Jay-Z, Nia Long, Usher, Bruce Willis, Ingrid Casares, Clive Davis, Rocco DiSpirito, Suzanne Bartsch and David Barton, art dealer Tony Shafrazi and, of course, the ubiquitous Paris Hilton.
Supermodel Frederique, dolled up for the occasion, sat in the lap of nightclub owner Amy Sacco. Universal Music Group chief Doug Morris, with Island/Def Jam's L.A. Reid, kept an eye on Mariah and on the enormous cost of the party.
"Do you have to pay for this?" I asked Morris, who was accompanied by his new Motown chief Sylvia Rhone.
"I hope not," Morris shot back.
Who exactly was paying might have been a question that crossed people's minds as more than a dozen gussied-up violinists greeted people in the entryway. Once inside, huge video screens projected film clips of Combs' life while giant pictures of him as a boy with his late father adorned the cavernous room.
The ballroom itself was flanked by raised levels where guests could congregate as they watched the dance floor. Later, curtains on the levels were pulled back to reveal beds, booths and water-filled porcelain bathtubs. Higher video screens flashed the words "KING DIDDY."
Was there a cake, you ask? Were there hookers, acrobats and go-go dancers? Yes, to all of the above.
I don't remember anyone singing "Happy Birthday," but at some point Combs was treated to a musical number when some long-legged dancers climbed out of a gigantic cardboard cake and serenaded him with "Hey, Big Spender." At the end they altered the lyrics to "Hey P. Diddy."
Combs was flanked by his criminal-defense attorney Ben Brafman, his regular lawyer Kenny Meiselas and, of course, his mother Janice Combs.
Who and what we didn't see: Ron Burkle, "Vote or Die" shirts, Fonzworth Bentley, Lil' Kim or Mase.
Who and what we did see: ice sculptures with the P. Diddy logo, Denise Rich, and Donna Karan fresh from the Ovarian Cancer Research dinner in Chelsea, where she honored Trudie Styler.
By 2 a.m. the crowd was going strong, the lights were nearly out and the thud of bass reverberated off the marble in what used to be a bank. Doug E. Fresh, calling out raps and emceeing for the night from above the stage where Combs and about 300 people milled about, took the hour to make a political speech. "[Expletive deleted] Bush!" he cried over and over. The crowd, swathed in anonymity, echoed the sentiment.
Don't invite directors Mike Nichols and Stephen Daldry to the same party any time soon.
At an unusually candid question-and-answer session on Wednesday night, Nichols had some startling observations.
"Nicole Kidman wasn't well-directed in 'The Hours,'" he said.
Nichols then went on to explain what was wrong with her portrayal of Virginia Woolf.
"The real Woolf was the life of the party," Nichols said. "You can't be depressed all through a movie and then commit suicide. It doesn't work."
Later, when I asked him what Daldry might say, he exclaimed with a twinkle in his eye, "Oh, that's him? Don't print that. But he's such a flirt, he's not going to mind."
Frankly, if Daldry had been there, he wouldn't have minded at all. All during the two-hour session, Nichols — whose wit is drier than James Bond's martinis — was never less than completely spellbinding, fascinating and enlightening.
He managed to hold the rapt attention of several industry types, including Sony Pictures Classics' beloved Marcie Bloom, as well as Nichols' old friend and comedy partner Elaine May, who was there with her significant other, legendary "Singing in the Rain" director Stanley Donen.
The occasion for this rare session at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater was a preamble to the publicity for Nichols' new movie, "Closer," starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Patrick Marber, "Closer" is one of the question marks in an upcoming Oscar race that already includes "Finding Neverland," "Ray," "Being Julia" and "Sideways," among others.
Nichols showed the audience a clip from the film, which is just being tweaked before next week's screenings.
The tantalizing scene, of all four characters in an art gallery, suggests that the director of such classics as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "Carnal Knowledge," "The Graduate," "The Birdcage," "Postcards From the Edge," "Wit," "Angels in America," "Silkwood," "Working Girl," "Catch-22" and the stage version of "The Real Thing" has another big hit on his hands.
Nichols told me that he and Marber have changed the ending.
"It's the right ending now for what it is," he said. "Patrick told me he never liked the ending of the play anyway."
Nichols told a lot of good stories and got off some excellent one-liners during the session. He said that Marlon Brando's assertion that he was broke, which he made right before he died, was a hoax.
"Reality television," he said, "is just reality performed by people who aren't as good as actors."
He talked about a seven-year period when he didn't make any movies, reminisced about the late Sandy Dennis' talent for belching and admitted to one famous scene from another movie that he's been trying to duplicate — or steal — for years.
"It's from Leni Riefenstahl," said Nichols, whose parents escaped the Nazis in World War II. "Hitler is speaking, standing in front of a crowd, and it seems like he's floating. I've tried to steal it three or four times, but I never had enough extras. She, of course, had hundreds of thousands of those Germans."
If you bought the first Beatles CDs issued back in 1987, you probably said, "Where the heck is 'Beatles '65?'"
When EMI issued that first generation of CDs, they decided to go back to the English versions of the group's albums, ignoring the fact that the American ones were the bigger bestsellers.
Well, it only took 17 years to fix the problem.
Next Tuesday, Capitol is releasing a box of the first four American albums, completely remastered and restored to their original glory. Even better, each album is presented twice on its disc, in stereo and mono. The package is cleverly constructed, too, out of laminated cardboard, with no jewel box, and is easily folded into a CD rack.
Yes, "Beatles '65" is back, and so are "Meet the Beatles," "The Beatles' Second Album" and "Something New." I've uploaded them all into my MP3 player and they have never sounded better.
Partial as I am to "Beatles '65," I admit I've given it more listens in one day than in the last 10 years. Because of the Beatles' big hits like "Sgt. Pepper," "Yesterday" and "Hey Jude" permeating the culture, these first four albums from 1964 have gotten a little lost. They're so full of gems that each of the CDs should carry a warning: no filler.
The real beauty of these albums are the songs we've forgotten a little: "No Reply," "She's a Woman" and "I'll Be Back" from "Beatles '65," "All My Loving" and "Don't Bother Me" from "Meet the Beatles," "I Call Your Name" and "You Really Got a Hold On Me" from "The Beatles' Second Album" and "Tell Me Why" and "Things We Said Today" from "Something New."
You'll spend a lot of time switching back and forth from the stereo to the mono mixes trying to decide which is better. Some tracks actually benefit from the mono more than others. These are sophisticated recordings in retrospect, little two-and-half-minute pieces of artful simplicity. It seems impossible that popular music could have been this good.
After kind of botching the whole "Let It Be ... Naked" project, Capitol and Apple (really just Neil Aspinall) have really done a great service with "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1."
I just hope volume two includes "Hey Jude," "Rarities," "Live at Shea Stadium" and "The Beatles Story." Then history will have been set right at last.