Never mind that the Democrats made Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez move her benefit out of the Playboy Mansion. Hugh Hefner threw a party Saturday night that snared headlines with an appearance by newlyweds Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Health Secretary Donna Shalala went completely Hollywood gaga at the "West Wing" party Sunday evening on the Warner Bros. lot where the president the TV one, Martin Sheen, that is held court with the rest of his staff. Not to be outdone by California's Gov. Gray Davis who threw a party for 15,000 on the Paramount lot, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante hosted a wild night of salsa and singing Tuesday that had the crowd on its feet, hip-swivelling to Enrique Iglesias, Los Lobos and La India or pounding out their appreciation for farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez and his family.
But the party of the week went once again to the Creative Coalition, which packed 'em in at the Beverly Hills mansion of onetime penniless actor and now producer (think "Pulp Fiction" and "Good Will Hunting") Lawrence Bender at a fund-raiser for Christopher Reeve's Paralysis Foundation. VIP guests paid a hefty $10,000 to take home party favors packed with Kenneth Cole watches and wallets and to rock with Melissa Etheridge. Her three-song set had actor Harry Hamlin and lip-luscious wife Lisa Rinna dancing in the grass while wine and rum flowed and trays of shrimp and goat cheese quesadillas circulated.
The guest list was mind-boggling: Hollywoodites Michael Douglas, Salma Hayek, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Kim Cattrall of "Sex and the City," Richard Dreyfuss, Christine Lahti, Melissa Joan Hart, Heather Donahue, Sharon Lawrence, Griffin Dunne, Ron Silver, Peter Boyle, Paul Sorvino, Bianca Jagger, Joe Piscopo, Camryn Manheim, Mila Jovovich, Ray Liotta and half the cast of "The West Wing," who rushed over from the Warner Bros. set after taping their show. Real politicos on hand included Donna Shalala (how she loved the celebs!), Chris Cuomo, Bob Kerrey, Tom Harkin, Barbara Boxer, Lynda Bird Johnson and Chuck Robb, the Kennedys and a Lawford or two, as well as model Christie Brinkley, fresh from casting her vote to nominate Al Gore as part of the New York delegation. There were newsies/talk show hosts too, like Bill Maher of "Politically Incorrect," Jon Stewart of Comedy Central and former Washington Post and TIME mag man Carl Bernstein (now running Evote)as well as editor Frank Lalli of George magazine, which cohosted the fund-raiser along with the Creative Coalition and some no-name types like George Clooney, Melanie Griffith, Goldie Hawn, Samuel L. Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, John Travolta and Harvey Weinstein. Whew!
Andrew Cuomo, Mario's telegenic offspring and the HUD secretary in the Clinton administration, opened the evening by surveying Bender's multi-megabucks white manse and saying straight-faced that "this was actually a HUD home. This is the new affordable housing proposed by Clinton and Gore. We think, after this, that more neighborhoods will be open to public housing!" Actor William Baldwin, president of the Creative Coalition, was clearly gloating at the mass of celebrity-hood in attendance. "Smoke and mirrors, Tinseltown and Hollywood. We fooled 'em again," he said surveying the crowd. "Here were are using the resources of the entertainment community and the resource of celebrity to support arts education, First Amendment rights and campaign finance reform."
Christopher Reeve, a Creative Coalition co-founder, was the star of the show, cracking jokes from his wheelchair and positively embarrassng wife Dana, whom he called his "medicine" through six months of hard rehab after the accident that left him paralyzed. "I have a confession to make," he joked. "This was a cheap ploy to get you all here. I could use a directing gig right away!" After the laughter died down, he got serious, noting that his father had joined a labor union while in college and later became a hard-core Communist, making politics a big part of his upbringing and his life, even when he was a Hollywood star in the Superman movies. "At first, it was easy" being involved politically, he said. "I had anger at Vietnam, at the disintegration of the environment. I was angry about civil rights and equal rights. In a time of prosperity, it's hard to keep going."
Reeve's cause now, however, is the Paralysis Foundation which has turned millions over to research that may soon help victims not just of paralysis but Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, Lou Gehrig's disease and other degenerative neurological diseases. On Monday, researchers (helped with Reeve foundation and National Institutes of Health monies) announced they had developed the first successful procedure to convert cultured bone marrow stem cells exclusively into nerve cells. The research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research this month, could help in the treatment of everything from spinal cord injury and stroke to degenerative diseases like Parkinson's.
Concern at Wednesday night's party centered around actor Michael J. Fox, who had to step down from his hit show "Spin City" to battle Parkinson's. He spent much of the event talking quietly with Reeve and other fund-raisers. Actor Michael Douglas, proud new papa of a baby boy (sporting the famous Douglas dimple), hasn't been much in evidence at the convention, preferring to stay home with actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, but he made sure he was at the party, handing out Dunhill cigars to one and all. Concerned about Fox, who appeared noticeably tired all evening, Douglas stole into Bender's kitchen and took some desserts up to Fox to revive his spirits. "Michael was a real mensch all night," said Jeffrey Podolsky, George magazine's entertainment editor, clearly showing that all things Jewish are now in thanks to Joe Lieberman's historic run as the first Jew on a presidential ticket.
Nobody at the party seemed too concerned that Lieberman would mess with Hollywood, despite his earlier criticism that the film and music industry needed to monitor themselves. Everybody has been having too much fun this week celebrity-spotting. Hey, Donna Shalala, guess who just walked in???