Published April 19, 2007
Tom Cruise comes to New York on Thursday night, hoping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Scientology. He’s doing it under the guise of a detox program for members of the New York Fire Department who participated in the 9/11 clean-up.
There’s only problem: No one from the hierarchy of the FDNY endorses this program. The people I’ve talked to are furious with Cruise, and want the rank and file of firemen in New York to stay away from it.
Indeed, what I’m hearing are stories of firemen who accepted free treatment, only to be swallowed into Scientology. And while tonight’s event is billed as a “fundraiser,” I’m also told that firemen and their families aren’t paying for their own tickets.
“The idea is just to get them in,” says a source.
The detox program is nothing new, either, say critics of Scientology. It’s just the group’s program called Purification Rundown. The course has been around a long time and has no scientific or medicinal value that can be proven by any physicians other than Scientologists.
Meantime, all eyes will be on New York City Councilman Hiram Monserrate of Queens, who has suddenly become Scientology’s new cheerleader. Monserrate drafted an official proclamation to have Thursday recognized by the city council as L. Ron Hubbard Day in honor of the late science-fiction writer who invented Scientology.
It’s hard to imagine. In the span of a week, both Kurt Vonnegut and Kitty Carlisle are gone. It feels a little like the period in which both Alan King and Tony Randall packed up and left to make heaven a funnier place. Real New York is ebbing away.
Kitty Carlisle is known to older generations from her TV appearances on “What’s My Line?” and “I’ve Got a Secret.” Before that, the widow of playwright Moss Hart (“You Can’t Take it With You”) was a comic actress who appeared in Marx Brothers movies and Broadway musicals.
More recently, Kitty Hart was chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts, a job she took very seriously. There was a great profile of her several years ago in The New Yorker as she crisscrossed rural areas of the state — certainly not her natural milieu — to bring theater and the arts to places that needed them.
When you added it up, Kitty Carlisle (a stage name) became over the decades New York’s most glamorous icon. She was indefatigable beauty who never aged, was always gracious and generous, was unfailingly kind and completely unique.
When Woody Allen or John Guare needed an actress of a certain age to epitomize class, wealth and compassion, they turned to Kitty for roles in “Radio Days” and “Six Degrees of Separation,” respectively.
Let me tell you a story. Back in 1983, my friend Irene moved to New York from Boston. What did she want for a birthday present that year? To have Kitty Carlisle, the woman she most admired as the ultimate New Yorker, at her party.
It was a tall order. I called Kitty — her number was in the phone book, by the way — and we talked about how to accomplish this. I was a virtual stranger to her, mind you, although we may have been very distant cousins — distant being the operative word.
We talked about transportation and the time involved. Finally, she asked, “Do you have an answering machine? I’ll call back and sing 'Happy Birthday' into the phone. You can play the tape at the party.”
It was a genius idea. She called, and sang. The resulting tape was played at Irene’s birthday party, with Kitty’s voice booming out "Happy Birthday" to Irene with gusto. She never forgot it. Over the years, I reminded her of this terrific gift, and she was always happy to accept gratitude.
There are few people for whom the lights on the Empire State Building should be dimmed. I do think Kitty Carlisle is one of those rare types.
Even though she came from Louisiana, she was indeed the realest of all New Yorkers. When she was 90, we went to see her tape a PBS special about her life at the New Victory Theater. It was a version of her one-woman show, which she continued to tour in until a few months ago. Nothing kept her down. Isn’t that what being a New Yorker is really about?
Last night, the party planners made it easy. Two splashy parties went off at different ends of the famed Four Seasons.
In the Grill Room, the New York Observer celebrated a new Web site, a new look and a very young new owner, 25-year-old Jared Kushner.
The Web site, Kushner and longtime editor-in-chief Peter Kaplan said, would either be ready today, tomorrow or next week.
The good news is that the Observer remains an important and integral part of New York journalism whatever size paper it’s printed on. …
Meanwhile, in the Pool Room, CNN — still the No. 2 cable news network — treated itself to a party for Larry King’s 900th year on the air.
I missed seeing Larry, but I’m told he was there for a while with old crony Barbara Walters and an effervescent Gayle King.
Some guests — like Tina Brown and Harry Evans — traversed both parties, although the quizzing at the CNN entrance by security made you want to give back the lamb chops.
What I learned: Larry’s current wife (he’s had more than Henry the 8th) Shawn Southwick has a hit single on the charts with Willie Nelson called “I Give.”
Next up, Shawn told me last night, is a video in which she and Willie appear naked (I don’t know about you, but I do not want to see Willie Nelson naked under any circumstances).
Verdict: Better guests at the Observer end, tastier snacks at CNN.