Know Your Neighbors
Okay, maybe we won’t be popping by to borrow a cup of sugar—or even a tin of Beluga—from any of these celebrated county residents. But we’re proud to call them our neighbors. Presenting the best and brightest, the sexiest and wealthiest, the funniest and prettiest among us.
By Meredith Matthews
With Marisa LaScala and Laurie Yarnell
His is among the most recognizable faces in the world; his name among the most familiar. There aren’t too many men who are as well-known as the now quite lanky, now silver-haired man who, four years ago, moved from a white house in Columbia County to a white house in Westchester County with his wife, his dog and a slew of dark-suited men with earphones and walkie-talkies.
When Bill Clinton’s 1,008-page memoir, My Life, was published this past June, the demand by retailers was so great that publisher Alfred A. Knopf ordered an additional 725,000 copies printed before the book even hit the shelves. The book catapulted to the number-one spot on bestseller lists in no time, selling more than 400,000 copies on the first day, breaking nonfiction sales records. Clinton, a Chappaqua resident, broke another record: He received the largest nonfiction book advance ever, somewhere between $10 and $12 million.
When Clinton had his bypass operation three months ago, there were seemingly more trucks and reporters parked outside the hospital than were out covering the presidential election. He received more than a thousand get-well cards from people from as far away as Beijing, and his foundation’s Web site (www.clinton presidentialcenter.org, set up primarily to battle HIV/AIDS) received 70,000 messages from well-wishers. One of the highest-paid public speakers, he receives about $159,000 for each engagement; in 2002, his speaking engagements alone earned him $9.5 million.
Aside from the obvious, there’s a reason he’s so famous, county residents who have met him say. Linda Barat of New Rochelle, a freelance public relations consultant who’s met Clinton at events in Westchester and Washington, D.C., reports being struck by how women swoon over him—herself included. “You don’t know the blue of Bill’s eyes until you’ve seen them in person,” she says. “They’re dazzling.” Another Chappaqua resident, who asked that her name not be used (we can only assume to protect her marriage), is still reeling from meeting Clinton at a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” pot-luck dinner. “He is hands-down the most magnetic person I have ever met. It’s like there’s this force field that draws you in. I was completely enthralled.”
Michael Podoshen of Yorktown Heights, an assistant vice president for an insurance services office, was also enthralled when he met Clinton at a Hole in the Wall Gang charity benefit at the Castle on the Hudson last January. “He has a very commanding presence. When he walks into a room, everyone turns to look at him. And when you get to talk to him, you learn that he is genuinely friendly.”
The former president often can be found around town—at Lange’s Deli, at the Chappaqua Restaurant & CafÃ© and, of course, at one of his favorite restaurants, Crabtree’s Kittle House on Kittle Road. “Sometimes we’ll see him a few times a month,” reports owner John Crabtree. “He comes in more around the holidays, and he has been spending Christmas Eve with his family here the past few years. He is one of the most personable people I’ve ever met in my life. His charisma is pretty amazing.” Crabtree reveals that the former president “loves a good bottle of red wine. He’ll often order big, rich California Cabernets and Bordeaux. They’re actually good for his heart.”
Speaking of the ex-president’s heart, Crabtree says he is planning to change the restaurant’s menu to meet the county’s most famous resident’s dietary needs. “One of his favorite items were little hors d’oeuvre beef cheeseburgers with a special sauce that we called â€˜Bubba Burgers.’ We could make them with bison meat and use yogurt instead of cream in the sauce to create a healthier alternative. He also really enjoyed our potato leek soup. Maybe we could convince him to try our lighter carrot- ginger soup. And he came to brunch one time and loved the bacon. We can probably switch to salmon bacon, which is much healthier.”
Another favorite local spot Clinton frequents is Chappaqua’s Second Story Books. “We see him every two weeks to once a month,” reports Joan Ripley, Second Story Books president and owner. “He’s a wonderful reader and can remember everything he’s ever read.”
One late afternoon in mid-October, Chappaqua resident Cathy Nish spotted a recuperating Clinton walking the track at Horace Greeley High School. Clad in jeans and a salmon pink Lacoste golf shirt, Clinton, she says, “couldn’t have been nicer.” When someone offered him a Greeley cap Nish and a friend were selling to raise money for the high school’s football team, Clinton “insisted” on paying for it.” That book advance comes in handy.
What would you do if your husband, a famous actor and avid sportsman, was thrown from horseback during an equestrian competition, causing him to be paralyzed from the neck down? And, then, what would you do when, after nine years of constant struggle, hard work and slow-moving progress, your husband ultimately succumbs to heart failure? If you’re Dana Reeve, who was born in Scarsdale and today lives in a farmhouse in Bedford, you’d push through and pick up where you left off.
Just 11 days after her husband Christopher experienced coronary failure, Reeve emerged from mourning to campaign for John Kerry as a supporter for embryonic stem cell research. “Although our family feels Chris’s loss so keenly right now,” she told the crowd, “today is the right moment to transform our grief into hope.”
Christopher and Dana Reeve turned their life-altering tragedy into a positive force. Together they started the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation to help fund research for better treatments for paralysis victims.
Nancy Loden, director of the Northern Westchester Parent and Child Group in Bedford, a support group, recalls the reaction the audience had to Reeve’s speech at the group’s fundraising luncheon. “People came up to me and told me that her speech changed their lives.”
In a message to supporters shortly after her husband’s death, Dana wrote on their Web site (www.christopher reeve.org), “So what do we do now? I look to Chris. When he was faced with grief and loss and feelings of injustice, what did he do? He made a decision to carry on, to fight for his beliefs, to do for others what he couldn’t do for himself.
“We can at least try to do the very same,” she continued. “We owe him that much.”
His sweaters are made out of ultra-luxurious soft cashmere. His sport coats are fashioned from the finest wool. And his polo shirts—ubiquitous in country clubs and shopping malls alike—are of the signature cotton mesh and sport the miniature embroidered, mallet-wielding polo player astride his steed.
The style? Confidently classy and classic. Indeed, Ralph Lauren’s fashions exude a timeless elegance. They look just like what Muffy, Buffy, Trip and their prep school Town & Country pals have been throwing on forever for sailing, riding and dining at the country estate.
And their creator is the perfect model for them. Ralph Lauren wears his clothes well, very well. So well that for a long time he was the man who would appear in his ads, even though, truth be told, the handsome fashion designer, who looks as if he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, was born in the Bronx with a decidedly less to-the-manor-born lifestyle and name (nÃ©e Lifshitz).
“He’s one of the dominant designers whose clothes we carry in the store,” says Andrew Mitchell, vice president of marketing for Richard’s clothing store in Greenwich, CT. “His clothes give a traditional, high-quality, beautiful preppy look. I’d say he is the top American designer—maybe even the top designer in the world.”
The world’s top designer lives in a 17,000-square-foot, 1919 manor house in Bedford—at least when he’s not at his 14,000-acre ranch in Colorado, his weekend homes in Long Island and Jamaica or his posh Fifth Avenue duplex. Still, when the county does get a glimpse of him, he always looks, um, classy, that is, Ralph Lauren-ish.
Victoria Covello a manager at Captain Video in Ardsley, caught him strolling the streets of Mt. Kisco with his wife, Ricky. “Even though he was only window shopping, he looked unbelievably stylish.” And, she reports, he drove away in a car that was befitting a fashion guru. It could have been any one from his collection, which includes a 1929 Bentley, 1937 Alfa Romeo, 1938 Bugatti and 1962 Ferarri.
Lauren started his design collection at an early age, taking after-school jobs in his early teens to fund his habit. Yet, he pursued a degree in business at City College in Manhattan—not fashion. He dropped out to start his own company. What began as an outlet for preppy English-tweed looks has become a fashion empire; at age 65, Ralph Lauren heads the Polo, RL, Chaps, Lauren, Club Monaco and today home product lines. He is worth an estimated $2.3 billion dollars.
“Ralph Lauren is the most influential fashion designer of the last 25 years, and not because his clothing designs are particularly original,” says Michael Gross, author of Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren. “He’s influential because his act of self re-creation through clothing pointed the way not only for designer businesspeople, but also for millions of people who, through the Polo brand, discovered the joys of good taste.”
Bedford neighbor Joseph Abboud, who worked for Lauren before launching his own successful men’s wear design company, simply declares: “He always looks great.”
IIn the United Kingdom, they call him “the man who broke the Bank of England.” In China, he’s known as “The Crocodile,” because some blame him for that country’s cash crisis. In the heat of the presidential race, the Republican National Committee dubbed him “the Daddy Warbucks of the Democratic party” because of the amount of money he contributed with such ease to the opposition. And in well-heeled Bedford, he’s just a neighbor—albeit a mighty wealthy one.
He, of course, is Wall Street legend George Soros, the 54th-richest person in the world, according to Forbes, worth an impressive $7 billion.
He lives in the family home off Route 22—in a section of town that requires a minimum of four acres of property, a requirement Soros more than fulfills. Residential broker Joyce Espy of Coldwell Banker reports that the multi-billionaire keeps adding to the near 44 acres he already owns. Soros reportedly paid $10 million in the mid 1980s for his approximately 10,000-square-foot, Federal-style, red-brick house (today it is said to be worth more than twice that amount). His ex-wife, Susan Weber Soros, founder and director of Manhattan’s Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, lives next door in the $19 million, 19-room, 63-acre estate once owned by Michael Crichton’s ex, Anne-Marie. (The Soroses were married for two decades and divorced in May of this year.)
Deanna Vondrak, who lived next door to the Soroses for 20 years before moving to Manhattan two years ago, says that she never saw Soros in person, but she did manage to get a glimpse of the menagerie of exotic animals on his estate, including peacocks and llamas, as well as the estate’s stable, a caretaker’s cottage and a modern structure that houses an indoor swimming pool and exercise room. Says her son Otto: “I don’t think I was really aware that this billionaire lived next door until I was in high school. One of the caretakers’ children was in my class, and I offered to give her a ride to a party. I remember ringing the buzzer at the gates. The driveway wove gently around the rolling hills and led to a relatively modest house. That was the caretaker’s house. The main house was farther up the drive. I was overwhelmed by its grandeur; it was more on the scale of a movie set than a personal residence.”
In addition to having great wealth, Soros is known for his philanthropy. He has reportedly given away 43 percent of his earnings—some of it to the county. “He’s been involved with our tennis event to benefit Northern Westchester Hospital since we started it three years ago,” says fellow Bedford resident and men’s fashion designer Joseph Abboud. “He’s very genorous and a very good player who doesn’t like to lose.” Soros practices his game at the Saw Mill Club in Mt. Kisco.
Soros recently contributed more than $18 million to advocacy groups, including MoveOn.org and America Coming Together (he even hosted a Bedford fundraiser for Howard Dean), all in an unsuccessful effort to unseat Bush. “I learned at an early age how important it is what kind of government prevails,” he has said. “I chose America as my home because I value freedom and democracy, civil liberties and an open society.”
Thanks to his deep pockets, Soros doesn’t have to worry about getting heard. At 30 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, he can outspend conservatives like former Independent presidential contender Ross Perot (48) and real estate magnate Donald Trump (77); he can almost go toe-to-toe with Rupert Murdoch (22). Not bad for a suburban stockbroker!
At one of those non- descript Asian nail salons, Samantha Jones* was getting her nails manicured, when suddenly every woman in the salon simultaneously looked thrilled and a bit embarrassed. The “Oprah” show was on and there, on the salon’s television screen, his hair long and silvery, his brown eyes soulful and sincere, his smile sparklingly telegenic was Richard Gere. (His hand was in a sling bandage from a recent horseback riding mishap at his northern Westchester estate; Gere reportedly broke his hand jumping from a bucking steed.) “We women were of all ages, all colors, all incomes,” Jones reports. “Still, we all felt the same. Shamelessly, we began to confess our love—or, shall I say, lust—for Gere.”
What is it about Gere that makes women swoon?
“His eyes,” opines Pat Braja of Peekskill, president of Arts Alchemy, an arts development consulting firm. “He has the most incredible sparkling eyes.”
Westchester Magazine is hardly alone in thinking Gere is super sexy. People Magazine named him “The Sexiest Man Alive” in 1999, and attributed Gere’s sex appeal to his “swaggering confidence” and “free-spirited and dangerously charming persona.” According to the magazine, “Gere is the bad boy women love to love—even though he’s bound to break a few hearts.”
He broke many hearts, no doubt, when he took himself out of the running and married “Law & Order” actress Carey Lowell two years ago. New Rochelle resident Linda Barat, who has met him at various local charity events, reports that Gere was always with his wife at these functions. “I see him as one very good-looking half of a very good-looking couple,” she says.
He’s romanced—on screen, at least—everyone from Lauren Hutton and Debra Winger to Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder. For a time, he was married to one of the world’s top supermodels, Cindy Crawford.
He grew up in Syracuse with a penchant for music, playing trumpet and penning his own compositions. Gere was also a gymnast and parlayed that talent into a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he concentrated on philosophy, but dropped out to pursue a career in the theater. Gere’s an adept pianist, a committed humanitarian, and one of a few dozen celebs selected to play themselves on The Simpsons (famously encouraging Lisa’s burgeoning Buddhism).
He is passionatly devoted to Buddhism and is an activist for numerous causes including international philanthropy, an interest prompted by eye-opening travel to Chinese-occupied Tibet and several war-torn countries in Central America. He founded New York City’s Tibet House, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting Tibetan arts and culture, and his own Gere Foundation, a grant-awarding organization supporting the Tibetan people as well as victims of war, natural disasters, AIDS, and human rights violations worldwide. Last year, the Northern Westchester Center for the Arts (NWCA) in Mt. Kisco feted Gere for his theatrical and humanitarian achievements. “Richard and Carey are very generous with their time to NWCA,” says Executive Director Ken Marsolais. “They were honorary chairs for our last anniversary gala. It’s a privilege to have them living in the area.”
Among Gere’s favorite pastimes: shooting black-and-white photographs, playing the piano, riding the trails that crisscross Bedford, and hanging out with his family, including his four-year-old son, Homer James Jigme (Tibetan for “fearless”) and Hannah, 14, Lowell’s daughter with ex-husband actor-director Griffin Dunne.
We’re certainly not the only ones to have noticed Vanessa Williams’s flawless smooth skin, her mesmerizing eyes, her full lips and her drop-dead gorgeous body. In 1983, she won the Miss America title—she was the first black woman to do so. In 1993, People magazine proclaimed her one of the world’s “50 Most Beautiful” people. Today, in addition to Broadway shows, movie roles, and TV appearances, she models; her stunning face is the one that L’Oreal chose to sell its high-end products. And when such an upscale company decides to make you the face of its brand, you know that face can’t be just pretty—it’s got to be extraordinary.
But you don’t need magazines, beauty contests or cosmetic companies to tell you that she’s gorgeous; all you have to do is look at her.
Williams, who grew up in Millwood and attended Horace Greeley High School, today lives in an 8,000-square-foot house on five acres in Chappaqua. She takes yoga at the Saw Mill Club, horseback rides in Northern Westchester, chauffeurs her kids, Melanie, Jillian and Devin Hervey, and Sasha Gabriella Fox plus a step-son Kyle Fox, to classes at the Northern Westchester Council of the Arts in Katonah, goes to church on Sunday at St. John & St. Mary Church in Chappaqua, and enjoys the Sunday Bellinis and homemade polenta cookies during brunch at the CafÃ© Antico in Mt. Kisco. “She looks superb,” says CafÃ© Antico’s owner Paul Garbuio. “She’s bright, she’s energetic, she’s an icon. And people are just drawn in to her. She’s got the personality to support her beauty.”
Katonah’s David Hochberg, vice president of public affairs for Lillian Vernon Corporation, is similarly smitten. “She’s beautiful, wears beautiful clothes, and has a dazzling smile and incredible piercing green eyes. It’s an unbeatable combination.”
And she’s more than just a pretty, make that, gorgeous face. “Vanessa’s passion for children has helped the March of Dimes mission to save babies,” says Shelly Siegel, executive director of the Greater New York Chapter of the March of Dimes. “Not only was she our celebrity walk chair at Walk America 2004, but she also went to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the White Plains Hospital to see our mission up close. She spent her time talking to all the mothers and holding all the babies.”
Dr. Samuel B. Ross Jr., founder of Green Chimneys in Brewster, a therapeutic and residential treatment center for troubled children, reports: “When she appeared at a function at FAO Schwartz, she not only made sure our children were there, but she knew each by name. And, to top it off, she asked that her appearance fee be donated to Green Chimneys.” Now that’s real beauty.
True, Mike Myers’s legendary ability to morph into one of a thousand characters could make him difficult to recognize, so perhaps it’s not surprising that, though he’s taken up part-time residence in Bedford, not many county residents have actually seen him around in the county, a county that’s home to other comic comets including Chevy Chase and
Myers, 41, his wife, actor Robin Ruzan, and their three dogs (all of whom are named for hockey players), spend most of their time in Los Angeles.
But talk about under the radar—even our most experienced celeb seekers had difficulty tracking him down.
There were rumors of study at Katonah Yoga, but nope, reports owner Nevine Michaan. “I’m afraid he only came in once in June, and we never saw him again.” He was, however, spotted several times this summer at the William Nicholas & Co. gourmet food shop in Katonah; apparently he loves the shop’s fresh fruit salad. “He wasn’t cracking jokes, but he was extremely nice,” reports Cheryl King, who works at the counter.
Myers was born May 25, 1963, in Scarborough, Canada. He grew up loving hockey and classic comics, especially Monty Python and Peter Sellers. As a child, he appeared with Gilda Radner in a TV commercial and cried when filming ended (earning him the dubious nickname “Sucky Baby” from his brothers). For an eighth-grade report, Myers chose “Saturday Night Live” producer and fellow Canadian Lorne Michaels as the subject. By high school, he was using an early version of his Wayne’s World character, Wayne Campbell, to impress girls, and straight from high school, he joined Toronto’s Second City comedy company. He soon made his way to the group’s flagship stage in Chicago and from there to our living rooms via “Saturday Night Live,” which he joined as a featured performer and writer in 1989.
He created his most devastatingly funny cast of characters, the motley crew that populates the profoundly successful Austin Powers trilogy, for example, Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, and Goldmember. The Austin Powers series earned Myers four Canadian Comedy Awards, an American Comedy Award and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival’s AFI star award (he also received a Teen Choice Award for “Choice Sleazebag”).
“Mike Myers is the funniest man in Westchester,” says Croton resident and film expert Harlan Jacobson, writer and curator of the “Talk Cinema” series at The Performing Arts Center. “He is the full load of darks and colors in life’s spin dry of the absurd. Coming after the ’70s mandate to make humor political, Myers remade ’90s comedy as existential. People are strange, and Myers, like Peter Sellers before him, has laid claim as the new keeper of the strange zoo. And, at 41, he’s only just starting to panic.”
Adds John Farr, senior vice president of the Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford, CT, “Mike Myers’s comic gifts come closest to the genius of Peter Sellers. Like Sellers, he’s a gifted mimic and natural comic”—and Westchester’s funniest resident.
Joe torre may not be a brilliant chess player. He may not know how to partially differentiate multi-variable functions. He may not have read Marcell Proust’s Rememberance of Things Past. After all, Joe Torre never went to college. But there’s no doubt, certainly not for those who know him, that Joe Torre is one heck of a brilliant manager.
“Anybody who can get along with George Steinbrenner for more than a decade while also winning four World Series titles must be smart,” declares Bill Liederman, co-host of the “Bill & Maury” sports talk-ra