Swelter 37

Actually there were just a few of us in town for the holidays, going from party to party. Sylvester Stallone. Madonna. Emilio Estefan. Ingrid Casares, always in the right places. Daisy Fuentes and her floating house of discord. Gianni Versace, traveling with sister Donatella, her husband, Paul Beck, and the unflappable Antonio. Alina and Anthony Shriver in a shades-of-Camelot number, Eunice Shriver flying in for added punch. Robin Byrd, the first lady of porn. Carol Channing. The former Prince, still lonely at the top. Everyone was there, and then of course, there we were, the Zelig of Miami, popping up in the darnedest places.

Countdown to Casa Casaurina, the frenzy mounting for Gianni Versace's first public unveiling of his Miami Beach outpost, the Best Buddies International cocktail benefit setting the proper tone for another night's revel. A great cause and an interesting evening, the Miami-based charity -- spearheaded by Anthony Shriver and featuring an assembly of civic heavyweights -- working with the mentally disabled, providing jobs, education, and support systems of care and friendship. Something of a familial effort, given Eunice Shriver's pioneering efforts with the Special Olympics and the plight of her sister Rosemary Kennedy, lobotomized by doctors in the 1940s. The charity, quite rightly, putting the disabled into the cocktail mix, everyone -- from the rich to the retarded -- talking endlessly of the house. Even the rarefied hothouse flowers of the design world, who never really like anything, rhapsodizing madly about the new God of Miami: "In this place, even I'd be happy -- just think of the social possibilities."

Lots of happy money and quasireligous fervor on hand, Versace turning a historic apartment building -- a much-beloved bastion of old Beach eccentricity -- into a palace befitting a king, the adjacent Revere torn down for an opulent garden and swimming pool, straight out of Fellini Satyricon. A controversial project, to say the least. In the open central courtyard, a chamber group plinking away under the stars, the $250 dollar-a-pop guests poking through the public rooms like tourists at Windsor Castle, gaping at Versace couches and pillows in cozy parlors, Versace linens on ornate beds, and gold bathrooms equipped with alarms noting the occupancy levels. Outside, a stairway made for grand entrances, leading down to a patio of fanciful tilework, luxurious chaise lounges and white table umbrellas. The pool backing up into an enormous stone edifice, three wall-mounted fountains, renderings of noble gods, spewing water into the pool. Behind the wall, a row of major palm trees, screening out the squalor of the streets.

All of us peering through locked French doors, attempting to take in more rooms: Versace's office/dining room -- sliding panels covered with tapestry fabric, candelabras, lush-life books piled atop a massive table, an open dome giving a glimpse of the upper floors. In the corner of the garden, a vast marbled shower area, the ubiquitous Versace towels resting in a free-standing urn. Patsy Cline playing over the sound system, attorney Roy Black -- who'd been so helpful during the William Kennedy Smith trial -- wearing a Versace tie and speaking Truth to a colleague: "Of course you feel like an orphan with your nose pressed against the window -- that's what we're doing." Falling in behind Black and company, obliviously heading upstairs through a temporarily unguarded doorway, the assault suddenly thwarted by a court guard.

Back to the bar, Versace being amusing in the courtyard: "This is my first -- and maybe last -- big party. I prefer small things, but seriously, anything for Anthony." A cloud descending over his cultivated brow with our foolish query A when's everyone coming? A meaning, of course, Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cole Porter's ghost, maybe even the real God. Versace swiftly regaining composure, gliding on to more fruitful fare with a breezy rejoinder: "What do you mean? We're all here." Properly chastened, fairly certain that the golden door to Gianni-land might never open, the hoped-for invitations to the universe of international chic.

Versace, in a curious way, bringing everyone together, slaves to fashion and finance. Big-deal models in theme attire, Palm Beach matrons, major Big Buddies benefactors like Ron Collins and Mike Abrams, Turnberry socialites, shameful Beach politicians, eternally rooting after Miami's mysterious strangers. A gender-to-be-named-later jet-set type, perfect for a bit player in Pret-a-porter II, bouncing around and charting Madonna's moves: "You know her, she's so crazy, so chic, she stay in L.A. and miss the party tonight." Thomas Kramer cutting to the heart of fun with a somewhat less social developer: "Of course we never see each other -- I'm never on the construction site, and you're never out." In the midst of the international melee, Eunice Shriver, thin and stylish in a black evening suit and dark sneakers, just off the plane from Washington. Shriver looking forward to seeing her newest grandchild for the first time, talking of the importance of family -- big families -- and staying close. The subject of sister-in-law Jackie, unfortunately, never coming up. Everyone piling out to the pool area, Anthony Shriver hushing the crowd with a speech about the circles of life, loved ones, and friends, the mentally disabled unable to draw on the everyday connections of the healthy and privileged. The benefit auction of Versaciana commencing, all the Silver Medusa purses and the trips to the winter shows in Milan, the auctioneer's feverish patter clashing with the tony surroundings, the "how low do you want me to go" exhortation striking a deep chord of personal resonance. A welcome tone shift, the Miami Choral Society singing Christmas carols from an upstairs balcony, the blessed happy and content. At long last, we'd all seen the house.

From there, taking dinner at Starfish with the Mother Teresa of porn, Robin Byrd, in town to tape her Men With Men show at the District in Fort Lauderdale, dangling the cult stardom of Manhattan cable television before the minor gods of South Florida. Byrd bouncing back from a bomb threat ("There's no respect any more") on her flight from New York and remaining a woman after our own heart: focused on money, food, and the hustle. A total professional in the nightlife arena, using sex as a tool of commerce, her siren's call to a particularly fetching waiter ("I do have a particular whim tonight A you") not quite panning out. Earth mother good-naturedly diving into a plate of garlic mashed potatoes, aping an orgasmic shiver over the "D.O.A." chocolate dessert.

After dinner Byrd and District promotions director Robert Levy heading out for a troll through assorted gay bars: looking for a few good men, willing to strip down for their country's obsession with hard bodies. Our contingent hooking up with a photo crew from Vanity Fair, taking a good-will Christmas tour of clubs, wallowing in the world of money and heterosexual lust at the official Bar None opening. An amazing crowd on hand, missing Sylvester Stallone and company but catching the local version of the young Gabor sisters: a six-foot-two Hungarian superbeast in a Versace miniskirt and halter top, fresh from her social debut at Casa Casaurina. The new traveling beauty in full fester, stroking her date's middle-aged crotch in the VIP room, a group of men enviously watching the tableau. Nothing to us, pretty much the same old shit, one horny financier cutting to the chase: "Her sister is even wilder and more beautiful. In bed together they'd be unbelievable. Can you imagine her showing up in divorce court, what the judge and my wife would think? One night with that piece would cost me 40 million dollars, but it just might be worth it."

On to a sexual segue at Phoenix, a dance or two at Risk, and then Glam Slam, Mr. Symbol showing up for the club's appearance of his current protege, Mayte. The former Prince taking over one entire side of the upstairs VIP room, flanked by four bodyguards, his sole companion being a female business colleague. The woman leaving his royal presence for some errand, the great man sitting there completely alone in a red suit, looking lost: an odd and faintly depressing spectacle. Home to a blissful night of sleep without dreams, gearing up for the next day with the sublime Carol Channing, doing Hello, Dolly! at the Jackie Gleason Theater, dazzling the crowd with an approximation of Spanish, wishing us all a happy holiday.

The jolly roll continuing later that night at a wonderful private Christmas party way uptown: Daisy Fuentes, ecstatic new father Emilio Estefan, Jon Secada, and Ingrid Casares, the true bellwether of high season. Our favorite Miami girl flying in from Los Angeles, making our Christmas sweet with a welcome news flash. Madonna, thank God, not doing her annual New Year's Eve party this year: One less social aspiration to worry about, the quest for big-deal invitations gnawing at our being. Then, the blow upon a bruise, Ingrid casually dropping the new A-list event: Madonna joining forces for a New Year's party at Versace's house, Elton John A from other reports A coming down for the festivities, joining the fabulatti in an orgy of fame and flash. No matter where you go, there's always something to ruin a good time.

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Tom Austin