Robert De Niro used to be the least accessible move star in the world. He didn't like to speak in public or make appearances. He didn't even come to his own movie premieres.
Now De Niro, whose home and businesses (several restaurants including Tribeca Grill) are all located near Ground Zero, is everywhere. You can't get away from him. At "The Concert for New York," he got a huge ovation from fireman and policeman; he's become quite the local hero, and deservedly so.
On Wednesday night, De Niro will be heading up a group of celebrities including artist/director Julian Schnabel, New York TV personality Perri Peltz and comedian Denis Leary to try to revitalize the downtown area. The gang, as well as Tribeca Productions president Jane Rosenthal and her husband Craig Hatkoff, will act as "dinner captains" and take different groups of regular people around to restaurants in the surrounding Ground Zero area.
Rosenthal produces most of De Niro's movies and came up with the idea herself. She told me that last week she and Hatkoff had dinner on Mulberry Street only to find most of the restaurants empty. "The looks on the faces of the waiters said it all," said Jane, who then swore to get diners back into the swing of things.
The "Dinner Downtown" is being sponsored by the Alliance for Downtown New York and the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau. Call the latter group if you want to join.
The biggest headline to come out of the New York Democratic Unity dinner on Friday night came from Chevy Chase. While he's working on a potential new sitcom, he's spending most of his time recording himself on jazz piano. Chase, you may not know, was the original drummer for Steely Dan when he, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were all at Bard College together many moons ago.
"I've got a studio set up in my garage," Chase told me, "and I'm busy recording a lot of Bill Evans' stuff. I've never been more into it."
Chase was one of a handful of celebrities who showed up Friday night to greet Bill and Hillary Clinton, New York Senator Charles Schumer, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and others to show support for New York mayoral candidate Mark Green. The elections take place tomorrow.
Chase was joined by comedian/emcee Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live star Jimmy Fallon, actress Queen Latifah, actor Steve Buscemi, Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, singer Phoebe Snow and Donald Trump. The evening was chaired by Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, who's still glowing from his successful "Concert for New York" at Madison Square Garden, which has taken in over $30 million for the Robin Hood Foundation.
"I'm very, very proud of how it worked out," Weinstein told me.
Fallon, who's on the verge of something big in his career, kept the audience in stitches with his dead-on imitations of Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Gilbert Gottfried. But it was his Cliff Clavin, aka Cheers actor John Ratzenberger, that brought the house down.
Latifah — trim, svelte and sexy — told me she's relieved to be out of her syndicated talk show and back doing movies. She won raves for her role as a torch singer in Living Out Loud a couple of years ago. Now she's filming the musical Chicago up in Toronto opposite Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
"The funny thing is, I did alright," she said of her talk show stint. "But I left before we had the big money year. This would have been it."
And how did she handle listening to all the sob stories of her various guests? "You get to be like a doctor and make it a business. A lot of time I'd just tune it out. You had to."
As for Catherine and Renee, Queen L reports: "They can both sing and dance really, really well. Wait 'til you see them!"
The aforementioned Buscemi, by the way, tells me that his stint directing an episode of The Sopranos has paid off. The talented actor and former New York City firefighter is on his way to Florida to direct a pilot for a new HBO dramatic series.
You have to hand it to HBO — and last night the Emmy Awards did just that. Sex and the City won Best Comedy Series; The Sopranos lost Best Drama to The West Wing, but scored with Best Actor and Best Actress — James Gandolfini and Edie Falco.
And still HBO could say "we wuz robbed." Patricia Heaton, who won as Best Actress, Comedy Series for Everybody Loves Raymond, is no slouch, but Sarah Jessica Parker's performance on Sex and the City is miles ahead of the competition in that category.
Nevertheless, HBO's Emmy wins are considered major incursions into the networks' hold on the awards, and a validation at last for cable. HBO manages to outperform the Big Three in areas that were once held sacrosanct. If The Sopranos' season were in synch with the Emmy calendar — and maybe it will be next time — The West Wing would probably have had more trouble keeping the mob at bay.
Meanwhile, kudos to Fox Network's Malcolm in the Middle, which picked up a couple of major wins (comedy writing and directing) among its raft of nominations. You have to wonder how the best written and directed comedy is not also the Best Comedy overall, but that's the mystery of awards shows.
Barbra Streisand also picked up an Emmy for her Fox special, Timeless: Live in Concert. A few months ago this column reported that Streisand had a little nip and tuck, and the source for that item was pretty close to the singer. Regardless, Streisand never looked better last night — and all in all, unchanged from previous appearances.