Puff Daddy Celebrates Independence Two Days Early

Puff Daddy | Elliot Wilk | Norah Lawlor 

Puff Daddy Celebrates Independence Two Days Early

Last night, the big scene in hot, humid, stifling New York City was in front of Eugene's nightclub on West 24th Street.

It was there that Sean "Puff Daddy/P. Diddy" Combs celebrated Independence Day 48 hours early.

Combs took over the nightspot to commemorate the liberation of his Bad Boy Entertainment from BMG Bertelsmann Music Group and Arista Records.

Champagne corks popped, dozens of white and gold balloons festooned the ceiling, and lovely clouds of smoke (some of which would have been more at home in Washington Square Park) made for a festive evening.

I ran into Benjamin Braff, the criminal lawyer who made sure Combs was exonerated last year in his gun possession-and-run trial. Braff, a John Gotti lookalike, conceded that he had something to do with Combs's recent successes. "I'd like to think I helped make it possible," he said. Braff will not be doing more legal work for Combs, however: "I hope he never needs my services again."

Braff's next trial comes up in November, when he defends mobster Vincent "Chin" Gigante. If Court TV carries that one, the Sopranos will finally have a competitor.

Combs, always nattily turned out, sported a gorgeous dark gray striped suit and aviator sunglasses. Perched on a kind of throne at one end of the room, he entertained his mentors Russell Simmons and Andre Harrell, his mother Janice, RocAFella Records chief Damon Dash, 'N Sync singer JC, plus the very foxy Foxy Brown, supermodel Heidi Klum, official celebrity Kylie Bax, and about two hundred very sexy young people.

This was a big deal night for Combs, who has overcome a lot of obstacles and almost became the new MC Hammer in the process. For a while it looked like he would lose Bad Boy, but luckily his Sean John clothing line has been so wildly successful it's proven to be insurance during down times in the record industry. Also, it doesn't hurt at all that Combs' current album, We Invented the Remix, has been a solid chart hit with a top 10 single ("I Need A Girl").

The question now is, where will he take Bad Boy? The answer, I am told, is Sony Music and Tommy Mottola. Sony could use Bad Boy, an instant solution to solve the problem of its black music division. Bad Boy brings Sony acts and press, plus sales — all things the company needs badly.

Combs told me between handshakes and hugs from his admirers: "I'm going to make an announcement in eight weeks. Then you'll see."

Of course, a truly great idea would be total independence from major labels. But Combs likes to spend money on things like big parties, so a corporate entity is needed to underwrite that lifestyle.

Nevertheless, it's quite a weekend for fireworks for this local kid who's made good against all the odds. Congrats to Puffy.

Mia's Judge Had a Sense of Humor

In a week of terrible losses — Tim White, Rosemary Clooney, John Entwistle — I see in the Times today that Judge Elliot Wilk has died of brain cancer. He was 60.

What a shame. Judge Wilk's greatest fame came when he presided over the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow saga a decade ago. Unlike Judge Lance Ito, who was bowled over by O.J. Simpson, Wilk never let the celebrity status of the participants faze him in any way. He was strict in his rulings. You could tell he really believed in the safety of all the children involved.

In one strange development, I spoke to Judge Wilk in the summer of 1995 for an item I was writing in New York magazine's Intelligencer column. It seemed that, with Farrow's case still proceeding, the actress was planning to adopt yet another child. She told friends she would name the kid after the jurist, presumably calling him Elliot. I called his honor to ask him what he thought of this. I said, "Mia Farrow is naming her new kid after you, Your Honor." He paused, and without missing a beat said, "Is she calling it Judge Wilk?"

Woody Allen himself couldn't have written a better punchline. Rest in peace, Your Honor.

Publicists' Race Declares a Winner

Who's going to make you more famous? That was the question posed by Marie Claire magazine in the current issue to two authors. Each woman was assigned a New York publicist who was supposed to get them newspaper mentions, TV appearances, etc.

The articles about the race, which are each a lot of fun, run side-by-side in the new issue. And the winner? I'm happy to say it was my pal Norah Lawlor who pulled the highest ranking by turning writer Melissa de la Cruz into if not a household name, a bold faced one. De la Cruz could gloat about her victory, and Norah's, but she doesn't. Still, it's a good story. I'm not surprised about Norah, though. Eight years ago, New York radio personality Mark Simone told me that "Norah Lawlor knows everything that's going on in New York." Remarkable for a girl from Ottawa, but there it is. Mark was right, and now we have Marie Claire for proof.

Happy Fourth of July everyone! See you back here on Monday!

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