There are lots of celebrity supporters of Barack Obama here in Denver this week, but none of them is more serious about his election than Tony Bennett.
The 82-year-old superstar crooner performed Monday night along with James Taylor and John Legend for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a private show following the end of Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention.
The Bennett et al extravaganza was one of three different parties going on at the Denver Performing Arts Center, including Rock the Vote, where guests were still under the illusion that Wyclef Jean was going to show up (he was never actually booked).
But the Bennett-Pelosi party was the hot ticket of the night, thanks to the three performers’ stunning work, and a guest list of heavy-hitter donors and even a few surprise stars like radio man Tavis Smiley and the beloved Valerie Harper — who’d given a performance of her one-woman show “Golda’s Balcony” on Sunday — with husband of 25 years, Tony (and they said it wouldn’t last!)
Taylor was his usual spot-on self, especially when the audience sang almost the entire lyrics of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” back to him over his own delicious vocal. Later, he and Bennett dueted on “Put on a Happy Face.”
But it was Bennett who really rocked the house. He didn’t take the stage until almost 11 p.m., but that didn’t matter. Younger stars should have so much energy! His bluesy take on “For Once In My Life” was another one of his high-water marks — it’s too bad some of his private shows aren’t recorded. Bennett is like a musical impossibility at this point!
And Pelosi just loves him. She nearly knocked over emcee Charlie Rangel to introduce him, and pretty much swooned at every song. But when I asked the dynamo who opened the convention six hours earlier — she doesn’t seem to tire, that’s for sure — what her favorite Tony Bennett song is, she was extremely politic: “Whichever one he’s singing at that moment.”
“That’s what I always answer,” interjected Tony’s manager son, Danny, who’s expecting a baby this fall with wife Carrie.
Meanwhile, backstage, Tony accepted kudos from some New York fans. He raved about Michelle Obama’s speech — “she made the whole evening very human.” It’s pretty clear he’s going to be there for the Obamas right through the election. Was he always so political, I asked him?
“Oh yeah, always. My dad was a union man and so am I. This is our last shot at having real change. I’m going to be there.”
It’s been about two months since Anne Hathaway’s ex-boyfriend Raffaello Follieri was arrested and jailed, accused of fraud. You remember Follieri: he spent millions of bucks not his own allegedly convincing everyone he represented the Vatican in real estate schemes. He was released on $21 million bail, secured by cash and property.
Hathaway could have been crushed by the scandal. But her advisers convinced her to get out of the relationship right before the arrest, and then she took some time off. (In dog years, one celebrity week equals a year.)
Luckily, she’s back and looking no worse for the wear. The smart, affable star of “The Devil Wears Prada” is just one of about two dozen actors here in Denver organized for advocating by the Creative Coalition’s intrepid Robin Bronk. The group has gotten very serious again, with what seems like an event nearly every hour, press conferences and all kinds of awareness-raising.
The actress is accompanied by some family members, and is shining. She looks and sounds happy, and she’s even giving some interviews on subjects related to the Coalition. When we met crossed paths Monday, she couldn’t have seemed more “over” it. As long as lawyers don’t drag her in as a witness to Follieri’s alleged misdeeds, Hathaway should move on nicely.
Some of the others joining Hathaway: co-presidents Tony Goldwyn and Tim Daly, Dana Delany, Matthew Modine, Danny Glover, Josh Lucas, Kerry Washington, writer Lawrence O’Donnell, Lynne Whitfield, Spike and Tonya Lee and popular character actor Giancarlo Esposito, who’s promoting his lovely indie film, “Gospel Hill.”
And following this group around is Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson, who’s filming their activities with an eye toward a documentary about celebrities and their impact on politics. This will be no sycophantic project. Levinson, if you recall, made the best political satire film of recent memory, “Wag the Dog,” a modern classic.
“The thing is, people forget that most of these actors are not isolated and rich,” Levinson told me. They’re American stories, they came from small towns and they’re no different than us.”
Modine, for example, who’s never lost his modest, self-effacing persona, hails from Oklahoma. He’s working on a “green” event in New York set for Sept. 20 called Bicycle for a Day. Sting just donated a signed guitar from the Police’s final tour for an auction. That’s the kind of stuff Levinson hopes to capture for his film.
Tony Bennett’s not the only one who’s rocking it for Obama. On Thursday, a huge music show is being put together for the Democratic nominee at Invesco Field right before he gives his nominating speech. Confirmed already are Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, the Black Eyed Peas and a few surprises. One of those, I’m told, is Stevie Wonder, who may debut a song he wrote specifically for Obama. How cool is that?
Most unpopular Kennedy of all time, William Kennedy Smith, talking to pals outside the Downtown Sheraton. Is he in town for his uncle? The last time the two of them got together, things didn’t go so well. …
Caroline Kennedy’s husband, Ed Schlossberg, and two of their three kids clambering through the crowd at the end of Michelle Obama’s speech. A few feet behind them was Robert Kennedy Jr. …
Former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio sitting quietly in the back section of the Jersey delegation’s floor seats. … John Kerry in the lobby of Brown Palace Hotel. … Fran Drescher exiting the New York delegation’s luxury box. …”Super Size Me” director Morgan Spurlock watching a chunk of the convention proceedings from the FOX News Channel’s green room. ...
There’s a lot of grumbling here, and not just from New York media types. Denver doesn’t seem prepared at all for this convention. Very often the attitude at the hotels and restaurants is one of surprise that the conventioneers are even here. One of the major problems is the lack of any real mass transportation system. Aside from a useless light rail system, the city has no provision for thousands of tourists who need to go back and forth from the Pepsi Center.
The free shuttle bus system was a disaster on Monday, resulting in 45-minute to hour-long trips that should have taken 15 minutes at most. The problem? The police have shut off streets that no one uses, and then kept open to regular traffic the streets needed for the buses.
Disorganization and misplaced zealousness is also abundant. On Sunday, the police “locked down” the Grand Hyatt Hotel, prohibiting non-guests from entering without their hosts picking them up outside. They wore riot gear and stood three deep at the entrance. Meantime, Michelle Obama and her group walked through their hotel without any visible protection from local police (they always have Secret Service).
The Denver police do seem to love their riot gear and machine guns, however. They’re positioned in places like the 16th Street pedestrian mall, which is far from any action and hardly has any decent shopping. It’s not that they’re unfriendly — they just seem to be poorly located.
Meantime, the floor of the Pepsi Center feels much smaller and cramped than either the Fleet in Boston or Staples in Los Angeles. Monday night during Ted Kennedy’s speech, there was a frightening crush of people; the aisles were sardine-jammed and not passable in any direction. Someone who walked by me said, “It’s like the subway at rush hour.”
Even though Thursday’s plan for Invesco Field looks daunting, at least there will be plenty of room for the final activities!