There is Hollywood swinging, and then there is Hollywood swinging.
On a day that began in producer Robert Evans’ fabled backyard and ended with Cameron Diaz singing along to "Another Brick in the Wall" at Drew Barrymore’s birthday party, Thursday night was marked by a ferocious round of something called "Hollywood Domino" in a banquet room at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The players were dressed in formal gowns, since the finalists at three round tables covered in red cloth to accentuate the black dominoes were all glamorous, famous women: Charlize Theron, Kate Hudson, Donna Karan, Salma Hayek, Demi Moore and daughter Rumer Willis.
The one man of boldfaced note who was still playing: Theron’s boyfriend, actor Stuart Townsend. Other men dallied through the room including Ashton Kutcher, James Van Der Beek (cheering from the sidelines) and Matthew Perry. The latter wore a raincoat (it was raining cats and dogs outside) and kind of loped around the room talking up young women. Otherwise it was ladies’ night.
The occasion was a glittering fundraiser sponsored by De Grisogono jewelers for a very worthy cause: The Art of Elysium, which caters to the wishes of ill children.
Theron and Hudson’s table commanded the most interest, although Theron lost more than she won (it was all for charity, don’t worry). The two stars played side by side, whispered and giggled a lot. They also wore clingy, expensive gowns.
Meanwhile, Hayek, bedecked in sensational De Grisogono zillion-dollar baubles, finished her game and realized her phone and purse were missing. It was only a few minutes before that we chatted about her 5-month-old daughter, Valentina. Hayek, who’s also the producer of TV’s "Ugly Betty," has soared to new career heights since her Oscar nomination for "Frida" a few years ago.
What did we learn? That there’s a reason Karan is so successful. Every few minutes there was hooting and hollering from her table. Karan kept drawing huge amounts of won dominoes, like poker chips, to her breast and declaring, "I won!" with a huge laugh that ended in her trademark smile. It’s good to be queen!
But getting to the Beverly Hills Hotel was not so easy: There were dozens of events and there was a lot of rain. Drivers in Los Angeles don’t take well to rain. They’re not used to it, and they skid a lot. They drive slowly. When darkness falls, they head home quickly out of fear. For New Yorkers, this is amusing.
The night proper began with an art show for director Julian Schnabel, who’s really an artist, at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. Every year, Larry Gagosian has an art show on the Thursday before the Oscars, followed by a desultory dinner at Mr. Chow around the corner.
In the last few years, the event has grown a little dull. But with the writers' strike over, and less to do than usual, people turned up to honor Schnabel for directing "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." The gigantic paintings looked interesting, but that’s not what this was about.
After a slow start, there was a sudden flood into the already overcrowded stark-white room of celebs: Matthew and Cari Modine; Oscar-nominee Tilda Swinton; James Franco; director Brett Ratner, who brought in his group actress Emmanuelle Seigner (aka Mrs. Roman Polanski); Dougray Scott; and so on. There were other artists, Schnabel groupies and collectors, the usual Hollywood hangers-on, and then, like a bolt of lightning: Diane Keaton.
Let me tell you: Keaton does not go to many parties or celebrity events. Maybe, actually none. So her arrival had the impact every party-thrower dreams of: It electrified the room. She wore a kind of white T-shirt top with green horizontal stripes, a small hat and chinos. When she moved through the room, the crowd moved with her. Very sophisticated people rummaged through pockets to find pens and sought autographs.
Why did she come? I asked her. "I was invited!" she said.
In another part of the room, "Spider-Man" star Franco, sporting a creepy mustache and toting a posse of four women, was all grins. It was not about Keaton, however. The affable young actor had very good news.
"I just got my GPA," he said.
Franco, who will turn 30 in April, has been finishing up his college degree at UCLA in English and creative writing. And he’s loving it. "What is it?" I asked. "3.8?"
A blonde female member of his posse, named Ivana, gave a thumbs-up to indicate it was higher.
So what’s next? "I’m applying to graduate schools in New York. Columbia, NYU, Hunter. I want to do the writing program and film school."
You realize that Franco is the villain in the "Spider-Man" movies and has a thriving career. He doesn’t have to do this. Franco won an Emmy award for playing James Dean. He’s got two huge films coming out soon: "Pineapple Express," directed by David Gordon Green, and "Nights in Rodanthe," the reunion of "Unfaithful" stars Diane Lane and Richard Gere. The mustache is for a role he has in Gus van Sant’s biopic about murdered San Francisco politician Harvey Milk.
In fact, what Franco — still a charming kid — has done is a sharp rebuke to all the drugs and craziness stories that generate from young Hollywood. So there, Britney!
So, yes, the day began with lunch around Robert Evans’ fabled pool. He’s designed a line of very hip sunglasses for Oliver Peoples. To promote it, they hired the U.S. Olympics official synchronized swim team to perform in the pool. They were wonderful, wearing white swim caps and white swimsuits.
While Nikki Haskell, John Stamos, Christine Peters, Ratner, Russell Simmons (with his nearly affianced girlfriend) and Eric Dane watched, the swimmers entertained. The pool was covered with a small white tent to block out the imminent rain.
Evans, who will be 78 in June, walks a little haltingly, but he nonetheless remains unusually handsome, charming, disarming and a magnet for gorgeous young gals. Thank goodness some things don’t change. Me, I’m getting a pair of those glasses. …
Cameron Diaz kind of rose to fame singing in "My Best Friend’s Wedding." She showed off that skill again on Thursday night, mouthing the words to Pink Floyd at Drew Barrymore’s birthday party at the rooftop Soho House. Demi and Ashton were there, too.
More sensationally, Madonna stopped by to inspect the proceedings with pal Alek Keshishian. David Furnish, Elton John’s better half, came in to chat about Sunday night’s much-buzzed-about party the pair hosts for their AIDS Foundation.
Producer Lawrence Bender tried the delicious cheese plate. Hot Oscar-nominated doc producers Meghan O’Hara ("Sicko") and Eva Orner ("Taxi to the Dark Side") became best friends over Grey Goose cocktails and decided to go to the Academy Awards together. …
Sad news came Friday morning that a longtime fixture on the New York art, culture and gossip scene, Baird Jones, had passed away unexpectedly. Baird was a character with a gentle soul and a serene disposition. He was known for always wearing a suit with a Yankee baseball cap.
I knew Baird, as many of my colleagues did, for at least two decades. He started out hanging around Andy Warhol’s Interview. Someone told me Friday morning he went back even further, to Studio 54 days circa 1980. He was probably in his early 50s.
Baird was a regular supplier of items to all the gossip columns, and he loved seeing his name in the paper. He also worked as an art curator for a downtown NYC club called Webster Hall (formerly The Ritz), where he specialized in paintings by celebrities like Tony Bennett. He never failed to lavish praise on this columnist, and I expect he did it with the others, too. What a shame. We will all miss him. …
CORRECTION: In the strange world of electronic reporting, the name of one of my favorite people, Tavis Smiley, somehow snuck into this column recently when I wrote about Aretha Franklin’s performance at MusiCares during the Grammys.
Anyway, Tavis was not even there. My apologies for this error. Tavis’ name must have been on my mind. His PBS show is consistently interesting. If you don’t watch it, please do. You can see the impression it must have made on yours truly that week!