Midler under fire for partying after storm

US DIARY ORLA HEALY

New York's most beloved showgirl Bette Midler is coming under blistering criticism for her decision to go ahead with a lavish Halloween fundraiser on Wednesday night as millions in the city struggled to cope with the heart-breaking carnage wrought by Hurricane Sandy.



Bodies were still being pulled from the water wreckage below 39th Street where displaced residents were dumpster-diving for scraps of flood-contaminated food as party guests (many elaborately dressed as, natch, skeletons) at the Waldorf Astoria "Hulaween" gala (themed: "A Season in Hell") sipped cocktails garnished with fake eyeballs and nibbled on a three "corpse" dinner created by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

In a bald Bonfire of the Vanities moment, actress Debra Messing, who was dressed as Marie Antoinette, seemed oblivious to the ridicule her costume choice would generate. Instead, she prattled on about the difficulty she had getting her towering headpiece into her chauffeur-driven car.

"I had to sit in the front seat, and then put it all the way back, and I needed two people to hold the wig as I got in," she told reporters, laughing. "That's my only fear, is that I'm going to walk, and I'm not going to get the clearance, and my wig is going to go flying," she added.

Fashion designer Michael Kors came across as equally insensitive to the plight of those who were, just blocks away, in desperate need of basics like clean water or a roof over their heads.

Dressed as a Frenchman and brandishing a cigarette in one hand and a baguette in the other, his bon-mots ("I am going to do two things you never see in New York -- smoke in public and eat bread. There are women in that [ball]room who have never seen this much carbs") didn't exactly sit well. Same could be said for Martha Stewart's notion of storm-suffering ("I think I must have gained five pounds, because I cooked a lot.") John McEnroe at least had the sense not to dress up. And not to talk to reporters.

Midler, who in her defence raised an impressive $1.8m (€1.4m) for the restoration of New York City parks with the event, was unrepentant about her decision not to postpone the party even if, as she remarked, pulling off the event in the wake of the super-storm was "very stressful" -- a sentiment used by one partygoer to describe the haunting scene when Debbie Harry closed down the bash with a crowd bopping to the beat of that Blondie crowd-pleaser The Tide is High.

Celebs sipping at Cips till six

Somebody else who might have missed the memo about the wisdom of refraining from ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption in the shadow of unmitigated disaster was luxury restaurant kingpin Giuseppe Cipriani who hosted the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Dita Von Teese, Jay-Z and Beyonce at a shindig in the 42nd Street outpost of his signature boite Wednesday night.

The party, which was wisely not publicised, might have slipped under the radar if it hadn't been for one helpful soul who decided to try and justify it in the pages of the New York Post.

"The Ciprianis put a lot of effort into the party, bringing in DJs who play Ibiza, including Marco Carola, by private jet, as well as guests from Europe who frequent Cipriani venues," the clueless source told the paper's Page Six column. Unfortunately, he or she didn't stop there. "It was one of the best mix of celebrities, great decor and music I have ever witnessed at a party. . . Dancing went on until 6 am."

Biblical storm scuppers Ark

Even 'Noah's Ark' failed to withstand the fury of Hurricane Sandy. A giant replica of an ark (450ft long, 75ft tall, and 45ft wide,) made for Darren (Black Swan) Aronofsky's post-apocalyptic adaptation of the biblical flood was decimated by the storm after winds of 63mph shredded the Long Island warehouse where it was being stored.

Filming of the movie, which was slated to wrap in three weeks, has been suspended leaving stars Russell Crowe, Emma Watson and Jennifer Connolly cooling their heels on Manhattan's Upper East Side -- one of the few pockets of city real estate where electricity, water, food and even petrol remain in decent (if pricey) supply -- and thus the go-to destination for refugee high-flyers with the connections and the cash to escape the ongoing mayhem downtown or, as the neighbourhood has just been christened, SoPo (south of power.) Among the cushiest crash pads, which will no doubt be ranked for a while by the celebrity-wattage they have attracted this week, are: The Lowell Hotel ( Alec Baldwin and wife Hilaria, Harvey Weinstein and his Marchesa designer-wife Georgina Chapman); The Plaza Athenee ( Sarah Jessica Parker and brood); The Mark Hotel ( Crowe, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld, Marc Jacobs, Helena Christensen, Jonah Hill and Emma Stone) and The Carlyle where oddball couple Mary-Kate Olsen and Oliver Sarkozy are responsible for gathering the most aggressive pap-pack.

Holmes happy to stay home

Katie Holmes earned her stripes as a true New Yorker when she hunkered down with a crate of bottled water, snacks and a torch to weather Hurricane Sandy inside her downtown apartment.

Unlike other needy celebs who tweeted about their hardship after being forced to evacuate the hard-hit area below 39th Street, Holmes and daughter Suri spent the duration holed up in their high-floor, three-bed apartment in the Chelsea Mercantile Building on Seventh Ave, between 24th and 25th Streets.

And they didn't complain. No power, apparently, was no problem for Holmes, who was determined to remain within walking distance of Broadway's Music Box Theatre where she was due to begin preview performances for Theresa Rebeck's Dead Accounts last Friday night.

The dark comic drama, which will now start previews tomorrow night (ahead of a November 29 opening) is Holmes' first professional outing after her quick divorce from Tom Cruise -- a litmus test, she insists, that won't faze her.

In fact, the actress told the audience of a Q&A session staged to promote the play, the production is giving her the opportunity to do something she's been itching to do for months: scream.

"Finally I get to yell!" Holmes told the audience of a Q&A staged to promote the play in which she portrays a feisty young woman whose world is turned upside down when her brother ( Norbert Leo Butz) returns home for what turns out to be a pretty explosive family reunion.

"What I really loved about this character was she's strong underneath it all," the actress explained with a swipe at all the critics who have mercilessly ridiculed her for staying silent during the split from Cruise, adding: " I like her values, I like that she's trying to figure it all out and really cares for her family." Sweet.

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