Last night's annual Creative Coalition dinner brought out some unusual participants. Bruce Springsteen met the Sopranos, and all because they share one person in common: Steven Van Zandt.
Of course, "Little" Steven has been part of the E Street Band since the mid-1970s. And on The Sopranos he's Silvio Dante, the nearly mummified friend and employee of Tony Soprano. Sometimes these worlds — which are each set in New Jersey — collide.
The Creative Coalition — which sponsors political education whether liberal or conservative — honored Little Steven last night with its Spotlight Award. So who better than the Boss to introduce his old, dear friend?
Springsteen was not alone either. He brought along his 11-year-old son, Evan James. Mom Patti stayed home with daughter Jessica and son Sam.
Also in the audience at the dinner, which was held at Sotheby's auction house: Sopranos Joe Pantoliano, Edie Falco, Aida Turturro, Dominic Chianese, Vincent Curatola, Federico Castelluccio, John Ventimiglia, Chazz Palminteri, Billy and Stephen Baldwin, Karenna Gore Schiff and husband Drew, and Law & Order: SVU's Richard Belzer.
Also, Christopher Reeve, looking healthy, and with an exceptionally strong voice, did the introducing honors for Playboy CEO Christie Hefner. Reeve was slotted first, so he could get out of the hall quickly. But Hefner was trapped in traffic and wasn't there when Reeve was making his speech. Instead he ad-libbed: "I could just filibuster, or take the highest bid to get me off stage. Fifty cents?" How he manages to keep his sense of humor, I don't know. Bravo.
It was Springsteen, introducing Van Zandt, who otherwise made the greatest impression of the night. He arrived at the podium with a sheaf of papers, which comprised his speech. Almost every page was feathered with Post-Its. At first the famous rock poet seemed like he might be overwhelmed. He said that Van Zandt had "single-handledly popularized the Babushka" referring to the guest of honor's omnipresent head scarf.
But then, recounting Van Zandt's transformation from songwriter/guitarist to political activist, Springsteen became absolutely eloquent.
He described Van Zandt's creation of the Solidarity Foundation and his work against apartheid as something "where art was more than ideas. He walked it he liked he talked it. He put his money — maybe a little of mine — where his mouth was."
Springsteen recalled that Van Zandt's first solo album post-E Street "sounded like Phil Spector in a head-on collision with Noam Chomsky on Highway 61 … It was the first album to be accompanied by a suggested reading list." He added, as an aside: "I told him not to do that.
"In classic fashion, he'd taken the whole thing too damned far. Can't you just write some of those soul based loved songs, said one of us? We're gonna go broke!"
Van Zandt, like Springsteen, remembered going to Berlin before the Wall came down, and how seeing it energized his political stance. "I came to politics late in life," he said. "I had a tunnel vision you wouldn't believe. But around 1980 when I knew we had made it, the tunnel started to fade. I wanted to know what was going on."
To make the evening even more of an E Street fest, original group member Max Weinberg supplied the music with the help of his Late Night with Conan O’Brien band.
Elizabeth Hurley gets more than just in-laws and a baby when she settles in with millionaire Steve Bing.
Bing is also a film producer whose most famous credit is the Sylvester Stallone failed remake of Get Carter. Bing's newest release, Night at the Golden Eagle, stars James Caan, soul singer Sam Moore of Sam & Dave fame and Dominick Montemarano. The latter is better known to his friends and enemies by the nickname "Donnie Shacks." In real life, he's a capo for the Columbo crime family.
When Golden Eagle makes its debut later this month at the London Film Festival, Donnie Shacks may have trouble getting to the premiere. Since being released from prison in 1996 after serving a sentence for racketeering, Donnie is under federal supervision until 2003. When he got out of jail, he moved to — where else? — Beverly Hills.
In Golden Eagle, Shacks plays a career criminal trying to stay out of jail. I guess this is considered type casting.
Hurley got some unwanted attention last year when she and Donnie were spotted hanging out together. It was all platonic, however, since Bing — Hurley's real romantic interest — is a close friend of Shacks.
Ironically, Hurley produced a mob comedy, Mickey Blue Eyes, for her ex-boyfriend, Hugh Grant.
Tony Shalhoub should probably get an Oscar for making his last two movies with their respective stars. In the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, he plays opposite Billy Bob Thornton. In his upcoming Life or Something Like It, his co-star is Angelina Jolie, Thornton's wife. Even though the couple talks about strange things like sucking each other's blood, Shalhoub saw little sign of their eccentricities. "Well, I did have a cut on my finger…" he laughs.
You know Tony Shalhoub from the TV show Wings. He played Antonio the cab driver for six excruciating seasons. His likeness is preserved in syndication forever.
Shalhoub, however, is an accomplished theatre and film actor, a graduate of Yale Drama School. He's just about to start filming a pilot for a series on USA Network called Monk in which he plays the title detective.
But if you want to see Shalhoub's crowning achievement after a long career as a character actor, you must see him in The Man Who Wasn't There. Shalhoub has undoubtedly earned himself a Best Supporting Actor nomination as the oily lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider. In a movie filled with tics and idiosyncrasies, Shalhoub raises the bar the and rises to the occasion. If he's not included in this year's list of nominees, then something is really amiss.
He's worked with the Coens before, in Barton Fink. "I'd gone to Yale with Fran McDormand and knew her," Shalhoub told me recently. "I also knew John Turturro, who'd worked with them." His favorite Coen brothers movie? "Miller's Crossing. They took a familiar genre and made it their own. Unfortunately, I think it got overlooked because it came out the same time as Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas."
He told me his part on Wings — which started in the series' second season — was a one-off shot at first. Antonio was a waiter in an Italian restaurant, but the producers liked Shalhoub so much they asked him to come back. He's still mourning the death now of David Angell, the creator of Wings who died on board the American Airlines flight that hit the World Trade Center Sept. 11.
"He was a tremendous guy," Shalhoub says. "He did Wings from the conception, and then in the middle years went off to start Frasier. I really miss him."
His Wings character, Antonio, he says, doesn't typecast him the way some TV characters do their portrayers. "I did Big Night with Stanley Tucci while I was on Wings, and Men in Black. If you don't do other things during your off time, then you do get haunted by a character."
Shalhoub's new role, as Detective Monk, is directed by Dean Parisot — his director from the hilarious sci-fi send-up, Galaxy Quest. This detective's quirk? He has OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He says, "There's a lot of dark humor in it."