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RSVP : For Women Only, a Toast and a Special Edition

February 29, 1996|HILLARY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tina Brown, editor of the New Yorker, was in town Tuesday to host a luncheon celebrating the publication of a special issue on American women. A select list of powerful women from many fields gathered at the Ebell Theatre to hear Brown, followed by lunch and a discussion mediated by playwright Wendy Wasserstein.

The guest list included Sherry Lansing, Helen Bing, Abigail Van Buren, Angela Lansbury, Lillian Ross, Judith Krantz, Jennifer Tilly, Sister Jenny Lechtenberg, Peg Yorkin, Jane Eisner, Candy Spelling, Rabbi Laura Geller, Mary Garrison, Mary Daly, Adrienne Hall, Julie Delpy, Jennifer Jones, Carolyn See and many more well known names and faces.

Or, as Wasserstein characterized the group, "I have to get up and lead a conversation between 170 women in L.A. including one of the first ordained women rabbis, the owner of La Brea Bakery, the president of Paramount Pictures, an aviation speed-record holder, the president of St. Mary's College, a cancer biologist, the founder of the Downtown Women's Center, Dear Abby, several terrific actresses, Mrs. Gooch, Mrs. Eisner and the deputy mayor."

In an interview before the event, Brown said of the magazine's first special issue about women, "The pieces people seem to be talking about are the Henry Louis Gates Jr. piece on Hillary Clinton and the Mark Singer piece on working moms. Even the piece on spanking has spawned a tremendous amount of comment." That Brown first listed two of only four stories in the issue written by men with the unnamed woman author of the spanking article, the issue's only explicit article about sex coming in second, reflected an odd atmosphere that at times dominated the affair in which disparate women were brought together and weren't sure why.

I've never been in such a group of movers," Lansbury said during pre-luncheon cocktails. "Each one of them have their own claim to fame as achievers." She paused, then added with genuine curiosity, "Do you know any of these people?" The lunch was indeed an opportunity for women who had heard of each other but never met to get acquainted.

Topics ranged wildly.

Kelly Lange of Channel 4 news stood up to say, "When I came to Channel 4 in 1971, there had never been a woman anchor at any of the NBC stations. But more important, there were no women anywhere, only secretaries. There were no women writers, no producers, no directors, no editors. There were no women even doing makeup." She went on to say that women now have half the jobs if not more. It was a refreshing version of "You've come a long way, baby," and seemed underappreciated judging by the lukewarm response.

The most moving and genuinely political remarks of the day came from Hattie Canty, president of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which organizes hotel workers in Las Vegas. She is the subject of a New Yorker article by Sara Mosle. "I've tried to separate the civil rights movement from the labor movement and I cannot do it," Canty said to applause.

One topic on everyone's lips was Hillary Clinton. Brown's take, in conversation before the luncheon: "She's working on a public stage the things women work out. How glamorous is appropriate for a career woman to look? Her hairdo--it's trivial in one way, but in other ways it's what every woman is going through, you know, it's very human. I find her difficulties with hair appealing."

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