Walter Cronkite had me in stitches Thursday at lunch at The Four Seasons. He’s 91 and stone deaf, but he is sharp as a knife and full of life. The occasion was to celebrate the documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon," which opens Friday.
And Cronkite was with his live-in gal pal (I say this with fond facetiousness) Joanna Simon, Carly Simon's older sister. I mean, you don’t have to be Britney Spears to have a life!
So Cronkite is still completely supporting Katie Couric.
"I think she’s as good as ever, and better than the show she’s on," he said. He does think the broadcast has improved in recent weeks.
Couric is in Damascus right now after visiting Iraq. As one observer pointed out, while Katie was in Baghdad, Brian Williams was interviewing James Gandolfini on the "NBC Evening News."
"If Katie had done that, people would be screaming," he said.
That is true.
I asked Cronkite if Katie wouldn’t benefit from Bob Schieffer being her Eric Sevareid and providing commentary at the end of the show. He lit up like a Christmas tree.
"Yes, Schieffer is excellent," he said.
Cronkite hasn’t let his age stop from him doing anything. He and Simon just sailed down from Martha’s Vineyard to New York’s City Island.
"It took us four days," he told me in between chatting with four of the astronauts featured in the documentary, including Buzz Aldrin.
As for Joanna Simon, a former opera singer and now a successful realtor, we commiserated about the passing of both Beverly Sills and Luciano Pavarotti, two of her old friends. And we chatted about her famous sister, Carly, who’s dating a doctor up in Plymouth, Mass., after quietly getting a divorce last winter from second husband, Jim Hart.
And here’s some news about Carly: She’s joining Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell and first ex, James Taylor, as a recording artist for Starbucks. She’s writing an album that she’ll make for release in the beanery in 2008. Very smart. Who needs these record labels anyway?
By the way, what about Walter’s voice-over for Katie’s show, I wondered? Is he getting paid for that?
It turns out Cronkite is on the CBS News payroll, where he’s getting a weekly paycheck. Les Moonves is OK in my book just for doing that. Now put Walter back on the air, I say!
What a weird and awful night we had last evening at Conde Nast’s "Fashion Rocks." You can watch it Friday night on CBS if so inclined, although with one exception — you won't see Jennifer Hudson singing a rock version of the Beatles’ "Come Together." The better stuff happened off stage.
While a slew of acts, mostly from Sony BMG, performed at New York's Radio City, the crowd missed the big scene backstage.
There, for reasons unknown, many dozens of totally not-famous people were treated to a wide-ranging party by the Butter nightclub. Every once in a while, a performer from the show would pass through this group of hopeless scenesters ignoring the actual show.
Meanwhile, on stage, Hudson — looking very slim — decided to emulate Tina Turner. She dropped her "Dreamgirls" persona and attacked "Come Together" accompanied by an electric guitar.
The audience — already having endured sexagenarian Steven Tyler, a bad comic called Greg Giraldi and a lip-synching Jennifer Lopez — looked a little shocked. Is that what Hudson is planning for her debut album? Oy vey. Jennifer, get back.
As with all these TV shows, what was real and honest made the biggest impact. Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger with Carlos Santana and Alicia Keys got huge, deserved ovations.
No one knew what to do with Martina McBride, out of place at the event and clearly forced on the show by CBS.
Usher and Mary J. Blige, an arranged marriage, made the best of Stevie Wonder’s "Do I Do." Maroon 5 had a better time with the Ronettes’ classic "Be My Baby" than their own, especially unmemorable radio hit. And so on.
Fashion Rocks is still a weird thing. Before the show began, Vogue publisher and producer of Fashion Rocks Richard "Mad Dog" Beckman told the audience that money was being raised for Keys’ "Keep a Child Alive" charity.
"We’re going to save African children from AIDS one at a time," he declared.
Really? Wouldn’t it be better to do that, say, thousands at a time? Having just returned from Africa, I can tell you that Vogue is the last thing on the mind of villagers who don’t have medical care or electricity.
But the real fun came later, when the show let out and hundreds of the hoi polloi jammed the lobby of 30 Rock to attend a party up at the Rainbow Room.
Conde Nasties — obnoxious clipboard Nazis with headsets and ‘tudes — and overzealous, badly behaved security guards turned this into quite a bad display. (Thanks to Beckman’s assistant, Vanessa, who apparently learned to be rude at the master’s feet.)
It made you want to get out a copy of Harper’s Bazaar — published by rival Hearst — and smack a few of them on their snouts.
Meantime, things weren’t going so well in the lobby. The crowds backed up, and one woman tripped over a spotlight plugged into the floor. The crash reverberated.
By then it became clear that the few celebs who remained at Radio City were not at the party. Their jobs were done, and they had better things to do. Alicia Keys was off to the Video Music Awards in Las Vegas, for example. Lopez had more karaoke to learn.
The security guards were getting surly and the PR girls — even the one from Dan Klores’ office — offered no remedy. ("We know who you are," a couple of them snarled at this reporter.)
What to do? Even the show's host, Jeremy Piven, had bolted for Nobu 57, realizing what a waste of time the party would be. We split for greener pastures of Elaine’s uptown, where actual journalists were finishing up a book party for Jim Gaines’ highly praised "For Liberty and Glory."
"Fashion Rocks" was a distant bad memory.
If you want to help more than one African child at a time, there are plenty of better ways to do it than to watch "Fashion Rocks." Check out Keys’ group at www.keepachildalive.org, for example, or the American Red Cross or the Save the Children Foundation.
Maybe you’re wondering what director Ang Lee has been up to since "Brokeback Mountain." Thursday I got to see his new one, called "Lust, Caution."
This is a Chinese film with subtitles that clocks in at 2:40, so you know we’re already in trouble. It looks great, but after a few minutes the film drifts into endless talk. It’s quite dull as the whole Japanese occupation of Shanghai circa 1938 is explained.
Luckily, around 1:15 things perk up. That’s when Tony Leung, playing a fictional Chinese corrupt powerbroker, sodomizes newcomer Tang Wei, a beautiful young woman who’s spying on him by trying to seduce him. Now we have a movie.
What follows, at around 1:35, is a lot of graphic sexual intercourse between the two actors, the kind that earned them an NC-17 rating.
It’s really wild for a major studio film and shows that Lee has gotten over his "Brokeback" phase with hot hetero coupling that would make Cinemax programmers blush. I mean, you see the Leung and the short of it.
Now we are in the final third of the film, and a story breaks out. Tang Wei is setting up Leung to be assassinated by dissident Chinese protesters. At the same time, she’s falling for him, but not before telling one of her comrades in scintillating detail what it’s like to have sex with this guy. At one point, just as they’re finishing, she asks him, "Now will you get me an apartment?"
Lee is a great director, and he deserves all the kudos of the past. I loved "The Ice Storm," "Eat Drink Man Woman," "The Wedding Banquet" and "Sense and Sensibility." Sometimes, though, he’s off the mark. "The Hulk" was a nightmare and "Ride With the Devil" remains forgettable.
Where Lee has excelled, he’s taken our breath away. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," for example, was full of magic. "Brokeback Mountain" appealed to audiences because of its love story.
I’m not sure exactly what "Lust, Caution" is going to arouse in its viewers or what attracted Lee to the material except that the central relationship is similar to the one in "Brokeback" — unconventional and doomed. Whether or not that’s going to work this time around remains to be seen, but I give Lee credit for trying.