You had to be there: 12:30 a.m. Thursday in the main ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. That’s where Lifetime threw a luxe soiree for the movie “Living Proof,” about the invention of breast-cancer drug Herceptin by Dennis Slamon.
The cavernous room was pretty much empty save for this reporter, a couple of pals, the movie’s star, Harry Connick Jr., his wife, former model Jill Goodacre, and their friends from upstate.
On the stage: a Steinway baby grand piano on which Connick played a few songs for the hot A-list crowd. He also accompanied his co-star Bernadette Peters.
“Living Proof” is not a musical, but why not take advantage of two big musical stars when you’ve got the chance?
But by 12:30 a.m., as this small group chatted about the long day of promoting "Living Proof," suddenly it was noticed that a young, good-looking couple was getting way too amorous at the left side of the stage. She was sort of propped against it. He was propped against her. They were oblivious to the remaining guests.
“I know what you’re thinking -- I am not going to play the piano,” Connick said with a laugh.
“Harry, you have to,” his wife prodded him. “I’ll pay you.”
The couple did not hear any of this, although the conversation was loud enough.
“What should I play? 'Endless Love'?"
“Yes, yes!” said his friends. Within seconds, Connick had hopped back on the stage, lifted the keyboard lid, and began to play the treacly Lionel Richie-Diana Ross love song.
The young woman in the couple was wearing a cape and a short skirt. Her legs went up in the air. The people in the room howled. Her companion signaled Connick with a thumbs up. That’s when Plaza security stepped in. Connick returned to his group, and applause. The couple seemed dazed.
The moral of the story: Harry Connick and Jill Goodacre Connick are a good-natured hoot.
What else we learned about Harry Wednesday night: his mom is Jewish and met his Irish-American father when they were both working in Northern Africa. The couple moved to Harry Connick Sr.’s New Orleans, where Harry Jr. was raised Catholic, made his first album at 9, and was playing in jazz clubs by the time he was 13.
Between numbers Wednesday, he told the audience — including Renee Zellweger, Harvey Weinstein, Ivana Trump, Nikki Haskell, Bob Jamieson, Frederic Fekkai, Bebe Buell and Joan Collins — that acting like Dr. Slamon wasn’t easy.
“It’s hard to talk like a white guy,” he quipped in his Orleans drawl. Expounding on different accents, he got Seinfeldian-like laughs.
He also cracked wise from the stage to Trudie Styler aka Mrs. Sting, an accomplished Royal Shakespeare Company actress who nearly steals the film with a heartbreaking portrayal of a dying cancer patient who’s denied Herceptin during its second trial.
Other cast members present included young actress Amanda Bynes, who did tell she’s not going to do “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” on Broadway after all. Also on hand: the terrific, award-winning and underrated Tammy Blanchard — who plays another cancer patient, and executive producer Zellweger, looking mighty sultry and happy not to be the focus of attention for once. She brought her mom, and manager John Carrabino.
“Living Proof” boasts quite a cast, by the way, for an original Lifetime movie. In addition to Connick, Peters, Styler, Blanchard and Bynes, you will also see Amy Madigan, Angie Harmon, Regina King, Swoozie Kurtz, Jennifer Coolidge and John Benjamin Hickey.
And here’s a PS: At Michael’s for lunch Wednesday while the “Living Proof” party went on in the back room was first lady Laura Bush and her former sister-in-law, Sharon. At another table, Kathie Gifford and Hoda Kotb of the “Today” show had a big round table including “Bella” heartthrob Eduardo Verastegui.
The first lady’s companions didn’t look terribly interesting, so Peggy Siegal visited her table, introduced her to a few stars — Liz Smith was among the lunch guests — and gave Laura Bush a DVD of “Living Proof.” The first lady got to meet Harry Connick, to whom she said, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for New Orleans.”
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