Swelter

The holiday season, and it's beginning to feel a lot like celeb time. Models. Fashion vampires. The famous and not-so-famous everywhere, selling things, basking in the sun and the envy of the less celebrated, pollinating, spreading malaise. William Kennedy Smith, free at last and even more famous, reportedly seen stomping around South Beach. Mickey Rourke, doing that pre-Christmas couple-of-weeks-in-Florida number, getting a little sun. Oliver North, hustling books and working on that freedom thing. The forever excruciating Geraldo Rivera on the club circuit at Boomerang. Gianni Versace, "courtier to the glamourous world of rock and roll," opening an expanded boutique in Bal Harbour this Friday, and then being feted afterward at The Strand.

Regine's reopened for the ninth season last Monday evening, Madame Regine Choukroun's birthday - people in society might let their age go unremarked, but not an occasion for a theme party. The usual glamorati guest list: superstar Julio Iglesias, jet-set South Americans, and the three graces - Monica Heftler, Brenda Castellano, and Cindy Carr.

Don Henley, Mr. Sensitive, signing his book Heaven Is Under Our Feet, in Aventura Mall, a compilation billed as "a powerful book of essays - by celebrities (Mary Kay Place, Carrie Fisher, Ed Begley, Jr.), authors, and environmentalists dedicated to the preservation of lands around Walden Pond." A personal appearance just down the block from Casino Real Estate Inc. and Eat-A-Rama, a long way from "Hotel California," let alone Walden. Sweaty flunkies and teen-agers in Megadeath T-shirts vying to get the attention of someone who's the cutest, coolest Daddy possible: "My Dad wouldn't bring me, but then I pretended to cry until he gave in, and finally I'm like standing this close to Don Henley, and he looked at my arm, you know, and he said, `What's your name, sweetheart?' and I like, you know, almost died when he called me `sweetheart.' Nothing would come out of my mouth. I was just like so freaked. Oh God, you saw him and you didn't just jump him?"

Robert Morse, a jumpy celebrity with a somewhat less frenzied fan club, opening Tru at Ft. Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse, a truly splendid rendering of the ultimate celebrity, Truman Capote. A very long way from the world of Mr. Capote's "swans" - Babe Paley, Slim Keith, et al. - it was nevertheless pretty enjoyable. Great lines throughout: "The only good thing about being famous is being able to cash checks in small towns.... Oh, the big rich and their society - I always had to provide the wit, the intellect, and the spiritual uplift. They must have been deluded to the point of derangement to think I wasn't taking notes.... Let me tell you, plotting murder is somewhat relaxing when you've got the mean reds. It was Christmas, and everyone else in the world was at some universal party. Life's so fucking rotten, and that's the solemn truth...."

Afterward the cast and assorted theatrically minded people gathered at Galleria G'vanni for an opening-night party. On the drive over, the usual mean reds alienation, a landscape of strip malls, doughnut shops, frighteningly cheery Christmas carols blaring out over loudspeakers, as if the town were one big happy concentration camp of seafood theme restaurants and Hooter girls. A lone teen-age hustler hitching on U.S. 1, the quintessential Ft. Lauderdale spectacle, right up there with sightings of Woody Woodbury and intoxicated Protestants.

Inside the restaurant, complimentary champagne and pasta, familiar faces, critical chitchat: "It was brilliant, and of course it got even better when we moved down to the fourth row.... Really, you have to wonder if Capote would ever admit to what he'd done.... Was that make-up or what?" The party drifts, and then he's there, the ever-smiling Robert Morse. A couple of photos, a chat with the press ("Sorry, no interviews"), gracious acknowledgements of artistry. And then, suddenly, he's not there, out the door, frantically looking for a cab or something.

People say life's the thing, but we prefer art. Clubs are somewhere in the middle of the equation. Parties are maybe a bit higher on the scale. Appropriately, Gary James's Christmas party at The Spot last Saturday occupied a sphere somewhere between art and ordinary life. Wit, intellect, and spiritual uplift were, as usual, in short supply. But the gathering was absolutely crammed with fun types, not including conceptual celebrity no-shows from the guest list: model and Harley girl Carre Otis, Chad McQueen, son of the late Steve McQueen, even elusive co-owner Mickey Rourke. The look, as compared to the old E.S.P., is lighter and less intensely atmospheric: eggshell-white walls, a pool table, a huge mural of Hollywood celebrities, a back-lit rendering of the New York skyline, lava lamps, an American flag, memorabilia from various decades. New look, new concept.

According to James: "We want more of a singles place: three girls can come in here, or five guys, and be comfortable. E.S.P. was romantic, a club for couples on Fridays and Saturdays, but we were getting killed on the other nights. This is like Lulu's without the Fifties overkill, like the Coffee Shop in New York. Cool, casual, but not Ocean Drive. The Spot is less artistic than E.S.P. and a little more commercial. I want to make a living here."

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