I do wonder sometimes about these celebrities who have been invented by the supermarket tabloids. Are they real? What is their charismatic trait that makes it unnecessary for them to possess real talent?
So this is what I was thinking last night as Mary-Kate Olsen, one half of the formidably unformed Olsen twins, sank into a chair at the Waverly Inn.
This is the famously cozy, very old Greenwich Village eatery that was bought and renovated by Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter. You can’t make a reservation over the phone. You either go there in person during the day, you know someone or you’re famous. That’s how you get a table.
It’s a far cry from the days when a bad turkey dinner at Ye Olde Waverly Inn, which is what it used to be called, cost $14.95 tops. But what the inn lacked in cuisine was made up by the three romantically lit fireplaces.
Now, of course, the menu has changed. The food is quite good and not particularly expensive compared with some other high-end hot spots.
But never in the old days would we see, as we did last night, Bianca Jagger or actor Jack Huston (nephew of Anjelica), who’s so good in “Factory Girl,” or Revlon mogul Ronald Perelman dining with two business friends, or Ari Emanuel of Endeavor Agency — who inspired the agent character on “Entourage” — excitedly sewing up a deal, or writer Michael Gross, and so on and so forth.
But what cinched the Waverly’s place of honor last night was the appearance of Mary-Kate Olsen. She is tiny, and — I’m sorry — very reminiscent of the large-eyed children someone used to paint on velvet.
She slouched down in her seat, and her hat pretty much covered her face. But it was Mary-Kate, and she was with a scruffy looking guy, unidentified and considerably older. All I could think was that I wished I worked for Us Weekly or Star. It would have meant so much!
But we were busy at our table chatting with the original "Dreamgirl" herself, Mary Wilson, a founding member of the Supremes. She’s in town for a few days planning new projects.
Over the Waverly’s delicious truffle-oil french fries, Mary reminisced about Florence Ballard, the Supreme who was fired and now inspired the character played in "Dreamgirls" by Jennifer Hudson.
“People don’t know how funny Florence was,” Mary said. “She was like Lucille Ball or Pearl Bailey. She had a lot of one-liners.”
Mary is very happy with the movie, but wishes Jennifer Hudson would acknowledge Ballard in her publicity.
“Why was Florence fired?” Mary asked, rhetorically.
If you don’t know the story, Motown chief Berry Gordy fired her unceremoniously in 1967 and replaced Ballard with Cindy Birdsong. Ballard went into a downward spiral of depression and eventually died alone and destitute in 1976. She’d sung on more than 20 Top 10 hits with Diana Ross and Wilson.
“She saw what was happening and wouldn’t put up with it,” Mary said. Just like Effie in "Dreamgirls," Ballard saw Diana Ross usurp her as the group’s lead singer and then have an affair with the record company’s owner.
“She sang like Aretha Franklin or Etta James,” Wilson said. “Can you imagine Aretha Franklin not being allowed to have her career? That’s what happened to Florence.”
Wilson is working on a new record with the production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. She’s also enjoying some of the residual spotlight from "Dreamgirls."
Wilson was not particularly interested in what Mary-Kate was eating, or whom she was with. Other than appearing alternately with her sister as a child star on a TV series, it’s unclear why Mary-Kate is famous, except maybe for not eating. And oh yeah, the Olsen twins' $1.3 billion merchandising empire.
But now that she has masticated publicly, the pendulum of interest could swing away from such a minor oddity and back to legendary talents like Wilson. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?
Forest Whitaker was sporting a cool jacket from designer Marc Ecko at yesterday’s Four Seasons lunch to celebrate his performance in “The Last King of Scotland.”
All of us staid types in suit jackets really liked it — crushed velvet with border piping! — but you know, you can only be the presumed winner of the Academy Award if you want to get away with that.
Some of the guests at this lunch, thrown by Fox Searchlight’s Peter Rice, included director “Thank You for Smoking” director Jason Reitman, director Joan Micklin Silver, documentarians Barbara Kopple and Albert Maysles, famed flack Marilyn Stewart, the amazing Mira Nair (whose film “The Namesake” will make a splash in March), historian Bartle Bull and actor Michael Nouri, who came late but had a long talk with Whitaker as the lunch hour wound down.
Whitaker, you might like to know, unlike the flesh-loving Idi Amin, whom he plays so well on screen, is a vegetarian. The Four Seasons whipped up a special plate for him. So when people ask him if he’s like the guy he plays on the screen, the answer is "No!"
But what a great time for Forest, who’s paid his dues. He was the co-star of the great 1992 film “The Crying Game” and then directed “Waiting to Exhale,” the first upscale ensemble black movie.
The latter became a template for a whole genre including “Soul Food” and “The Best Man.” He also directed Sandra Bullock’s hit, “Hope Floats,” and produced a wonderful, little-seen film called “Green Dragon,” which is worth renting if you can find it. This is a Renaissance man!
I still remember when he was shooting “Exhale,” how Whitney Houston, then at the top of her diva game, left him high and dry in the desert one day, insisting that a helicopter take her back to “civilization.”
Forest — patient and courteous to a fault — had to wait hours for the whirlybird to come back and get him. He didn’t say anything at the time, and held his breath. Now, you see, it’s his turn to exhale!
The new season of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” had a dismal start on Sunday night. The show finished third in its time slot, far behind ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and CBS’s “Cold Case.”
Even worse: “The Apprentice” lost millions of viewers from its lead in, the “Grease” reality show that preceded it. The Apprentice rating was a miniscule 5.4.
What happened to Donald Trump? He used to be so PR savvy. But his tirades and constant attacks against Rosie O'Donnell have done to him what Tom Cruise’s criticism of Brooke Shields did to him in 2005.
Doesn’t Trump realize that the bulk of the non-football viewing TV audience are women and that once they sense an enemy, there’s no going back? I doubt “The Apprentice” can regain its ratings of old.
Tonight the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures — that gang of fans who pay $600 a year for memberships — hand out their highly irrelevant awards.
The group bypassed "Dreamgirls" entirely. Their top movie is Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which sadly seems to be out of the running for an Oscar nomination.
The group's Top Ten includes such nonstarters as "Blood Diamond," "History Boys," "Flags of Our Fathers" and "The Painted Veil." Six of their top 10 are in some way connected to Warner Bros., the NBRMP’s pet studio.
The NBRMP event, at Cipriani 42nd Street, should be a bit of an anticlimax since two of their main winners, Martin Scorsese and Jennifer Hudson, just gave acceptance speeches 48 hours ago at the more legit New York Film Critics Awards.
Scorsese’s Sunday night speech was so brilliant that it can’t be replicated or topped. Maybe he can just show a tape of it. Hudson is still learning to articulate her success. A nod tonight to the Supremes’ Florence Ballard or even to Jennifer Holliday, who created the role, would be nice.
Still, all of this is practice for a “real” award on Friday night, when the Broadcast Critics give the Critics’ Choice Awards out in Santa Monica. That evening, voted on by TV and radio critics from across the country, will be shown on the E! Channel, by the way.