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Chatting up Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Liz Smith
Originally published December 6, 2005

WHEN I'M invited to parties where they say that big name stars will appear, I seldom believe in magic. Often those VIP names are used as bait. So imagine how surprised I was when I turned up at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel for an invite by Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley for the Eugene O'Neill Theater to find that the honorees - Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones - were already there before me.

I spent cocktail time and dinner in the River Club with this glamorous and worthy couple and it turned out to be a blast. Michael was his usual intelligent, now all grown-up self. (He credits the Eugene O'Neill Theater, along with actor Karl Malden, as "the greatest influences on my career.") Michael is capable and smart. Catherine is earthy and fun-loving - a wonderful young woman who just happens to be the most plush and gorgeous star since Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor, two famous brunettes who also looked like you couldn't get near them, but when you did - pow!

The Welsh temptress and Oscar winner for Chicago told me how motherhood has transformed her. She says she is perpetually impatient to get home to be with her two children whether it be in California, Wales or Bermuda. (These pregnancies haven't harmed her looks in the least. In fact, she is more beautiful than ever.)

Michael and Catherine were on hand to celebrate the venerable Eugene O'Neill Theater in Waterford, Conn. They are two of its leading supporters. Homeland Foundation prexy E. Lisk Wyckoff Jr. gave a $25,000 check to executive director Amy Sullivan. The theater has made a remarkable comeback under her leadership. Those on the receiving end of gratitude were Broadway producers Roger Berlind, Ruth Hendel, Tom Viertel and attorney Floria Lasky.

Barbara and Arthur Gelb, the biographers of playwright Eugene O'Neill and the keepers of his flame, joined us at dinner. They entertained us with stories of the playwright and when we each were asked to name our favorite unfulfilled fantasy, I said I wanted "to be adopted by Michael and Catherine."

By the way, Ms. Zeta-Jones, when she can tear herself away from the children, might consider one of O'Neill's works. I bet she has the intensity for Anna Christie and in a few year's time, Long Day's Journey Into Night. In the latter work, of course, she would be competing with the formidable memories of Colleen Dewhurst on stage and Katharine Hepburn on screen. But, as Charles Laughton said, "When you stop trying to hang yourself, you're done for!"

Oh, so wrong
Well, my reliable big-deal sources (more than one) were wrong and I was incorrect according to Maureen Dowd and Alessandra Stanley (Times reporters) that their long friendship has ended.

Maureen said by e-mail, "I am having dinner with Alessandra tonight, shall I send you a picture from my cell phone?"

I replied, "Not unless you have one that is compromising!"

Maureen insists, "I love Alessandra like a sister ... there is nothing I can say that will paint a heavenly enough portrait of her." Whew! When we make a mistake here, it's a beaut. You go, girlfriends!

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