Swelter 33

Aside from the usual jaunts down the humiliation highway, the pointless theatrics and endless hook-up requests to dark world, the onerousness of being considered a combination of Michael Aller, Fredo Corleone, the social director on the Love Boat, and a dumbed-down Samuel Pepys, and the cruel dichotomy of living in the gutter while reaching for the stars of society -- most of whom crave slumming tours of nightclubs -- it's been quite a week. I even managed to get out of Miami, the never-ending holiday from hell and hunger, and took some comfort at the ad hoc Lourdes of publishing, the 1995 American Magazine Conference at the Boca Raton Hotel and Club, three days that sort of shook the world.

In step with the new age of information abundance, the convention's speakers ranged wildly across the cultural spectrum. Being a huge, if nauseating, name, Newt Gingrich beamed in his speech via satellite, but Sen. Bill Bradley and author Gail Sheehy made personal appearances, along with Dr. William J. Bennett, the former politician who's making a killing on the morality beat with The Book of Virtues, and Tina Brown, now straddling the Olympus of The New Yorker. Mutual interest festivals always bring out the better classes of people.

But save for the Newt, no one was as big on the conference pecking order as the DreamWorks SKG studio heads, the triumvirate of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, making a very rare public appearance together. The back-scratching frolic was arranged by Susan Lyne of Premiere magazine, with the "Making DreamWorks a Reality" panel moderated by ABC News political and media analyst Jeff Greenfield. Although I missed the presentation, a helpful someone did send down a tape, and it's juicy stuff indeed.

To set a light, just-us-guys tone, Greenfield introduced the panel as exploring the "myth of Jewish influence in the media." Spielberg, the man with a true grip, working on some sixteen movies in development, with several projects scheduled for release in 1996: "We're making both some small, personal films and larger-scale movies, reflective of our commitment to social values A I wouldn't make Kids or Showgirls, for instance. You have to feel good about the way you make money. And after 46 movies, DreamWorks gives me an opportunity to own the real estate; I've always rented before."

From there the team addressed lame questions about possibly producing magazines A why bother when you already rule? A and daytime talk shows of an elevating nature. Geffen stepped in with record-industry matters, boutique-studio procedures, and name hurling: "My good friend Calvin Klein told me some advice that he got from a 'garmento' A his word A when Calvin was just starting out: 'Volume has killed more Jews than cancer.'" Although somewhat less convincing as a moral force than his colleagues, Geffen also addressed the family-values question: "We're not going to be producing negative music, material that glamorizes drugs or advocates hurting people, like gangsta rap. When I was down in Barbados on vacation, one of the shows did something on Charles Manson, sitting there with a swastika between his eyes, and they brought in the fact that Guns N' Roses, one of our bands, had recorded a song written by Manson, which was actually harmless enough. Of course they showed the Geffen Records headquarters on-camera, and all I could think about was Roman Polanski calling me. I was so embarrassed I had my name taken off the building."

At that point the topic switched from Geffen's good name to his good money, Katzenberg making a joke about being in the will and Geffen lobbing out more show-biz lore: "Paddy Chayevsky, who was Bob Fosse's best friend, visited Fosse after his massive heart attack and asked the same thing. When Fosse told him he wasn't in the will, Chayevsky said, 'Fuck you, live then.'" From there the questions-from-the-audience segment, a witness to the feast asking what the DreamWorks boys considered the worst aspects of journalism. Katzenberg went jokey: "You're all perfect -- how that's for sucking up?" Spielberg -- who's probably received more positive publicity than anyone since Abe Lincoln -- worried over fact-checking procedures and the use of anonymous sources, gossip's most sinister tool. Just to be perverse, the entire team jumped in on the matter of magazines being cozy with celebrities: reporters putting up with more from entertainers than from politicians, the deals for magazine covers, and the worrying over agents denying editorial access to their star clients.

Naturally Geffen, the most controversial principal of the trio, brought up his own media controversies, most notably the innuendoes that swirled around a rumored marriage to Keanu Reeves. A baseless, scurrilous falsehood, of course, although the romantic in me wants the perfect couple to get hitched, Geffen being so good-humored about it all: "You can imagine how I felt, written about as being secretly married to someone I'd never met. Since then I actually did meet Keanu at a play premiere in New York, while I was talking to my friend Lesley Ann Warren. The only thing I could think to say was 'I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.'"

As it turned out, a sudden seizure of personal ambition, an actual appearance in Boca Raton for the conference's wrap-up gala dinner, wasn't all that great. Marvin Hamlisch, who's no Cole Porter or Keanu, entertained the troops. Unlike officious occasions in Miami, there seemed to be a ban on table hopping, and I gave up a search for Christie Hefner and other important people worthy of ass kissing. And then, further down the food chain, there was the sobering prospect of a free-lance writer at the press-ghetto table who pitched herself with a cheery photocopied letter of introduction: "For those of you who find my methods enterprising and innovative, not to mention my 'chutzpah' charming, I would be happy to personally hand you a resume." No matter where you go, there's always someone ready to make you wake up and smell the coffee.

Although the despairs of delusion are an occupational hazard, social columnists learn, like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, that dreams -- along with happiness and a good time -- also come with the territory. And a three-day wallow in Micky Wolfson World, the gala weekend for the Wolfsonian Foundation Gallery on Washington Avenue, brought joy and epiphanies beyond measure. An ideal encapsulation of fifteen years spent in the trenches of local society, an upbeat ending suitable for a DreamWorks basic-human-values production. If only the docudrama didn't have to start all over again next week.

The merriment began on Thursday night at a South Beach-as-trendy-bordello restaurant with a Micky-cousin from London, Michael Wolfson, a furniture/sculpture/objets de vertues designer who's currently having a "Golden Distortions" exhibition at the Richard Himmel Antique and Decorative Furniture gallery in Dania. Wolfson bringing along Fred Lech of the Centrium gallery in San Francisco, and a jolly time was had by all, conversation touching on royal weddings, private London clubs, and vital matters of taste. My favorite living-well-is-the-best-revenge homeboy at the table giving us all something to chew on with his take on the international whirl: "Monkeys party, Americans work."

Exactly. The following day bringing a welcome professional opportunity, Michael Wolfson kindly providing an invitation to the $500-per-person sneak preview of the museum's inaugural exhibition, "The Arts of Reform and Persuasion, 1885-1945." Atmospheres never get too rarefied for me, and the reception in the galleries proved blissfully press-free, a circumstance that lends petty glory and bold-face potential to any occasion: Adolpho Leirner of Sao Paulo; Princess Mimi Romanoff of Russia; Baron Paolo Von Wedel of Italy; Beth DeWoody, the New York-based socialite who must have clones everywhere operating as party doubles; Peggy Loar and Wendy Kaplan from the Wolfsonian; Micky's old friends' contingent, true gentlemen such as Bill Kenny and Alfred Kennedy, both of Atlanta.

And then there's my forever-and-a-day pal Manuel E. Gonzalez, vice president and director of the art program at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, being quotable ("I've just arrived from the Home for the Holidays premiere in Los Angeles, where I dined with Mel Gibson A surprisingly short, your height") and productive, Chase having given $150,000 to the Wolfsonian. Also the always perfect Bixie Matheson, who's entered the work force as development director at Channel 2. Everyone, royal and commoner alike, agog before an amazingly beautiful exhibit, encompassing everything from skyscraper-shape bookcases to circa World War II propaganda posters. All in all, a true triumph.

Day three, and a stretch of Washington Avenue is blocked off for the Propaganda Ball costume soiree: the amiable Argentinian Julia Valentine going as Evita, other costume marvels including faux gangsters John and Susan Rothchild, and Joey Horton as a sailor boy. After a while, all the parties of the past begin to blur with the immediate world, the locals assuming the characteristics of a dysfunctional family in the throes of a grand reunion: Some you've always loved, some you've grown to loathe, and some of the more shameful relatives never bothered to step foot in the museum. At once everyone seems endearingly familiar and hopelessly alien, but we all belong to one another. And in the end the people you know make a city home, and you come to love where you live not because of the good, but as a disavowal of the bad. A party is a party is party, but the Wolfsonian itself endures. At last, something tasteful this way comes.