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Feting the Margaret Mead of the Internet

May 16, 1997|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The new $4-million Beverly Hills Spago would seem the natural lair for the media moguls Ken Auletta has such a deft touch in making talk. What better place for a Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone, Michael Eisner or John Malone to dine?

So it was fitting that at a Wednesday evening reception, amid the hand-blown Murano glass chandeliers, Anna Silver vases, South African slate floors and mahogany arches, the New Yorker magazine writer was toasted for his new book, "The Highwaymen: Warriors of the Information Superhighway."

"Ken is truly an anthropologist," said co-host Nora Ephron, who borrowed a champagne glass to raise when she ended her speech. "Just as Margaret Mead went to Samoa and put on a grass skirt so she could talk to the natives, Ken turns up with perfect hair, a perfect shirt and manages to infiltrate the late 20th century culture called the Players--the guys with their G4 and G5 jets who really just want to be understood."

As about 150 guests, including Rob Reiner, Sid Ganis, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, Jim Wiatt, Gary Foster, Clay Felker, Jim Bellows and co-hosts Caroline Graham and Thomas Florio, filled Spago's private dining room, Auletta explained why he's been so successful in the role of Mr. Understanding.

"We don't have subpoena power so the vanity of the person works to our advantage," said Auletta. "You don't get to be head of the company without the conviction you can sell anyone anything. It's another form of contest and these guys are very competitive. They think, 'Can I take this guy? Can I persuade him? Can I make him see what I do is good and successful?' "

Joel Schumacher, who directed two Batman movies and would know something about myth-making, said the moguls need someone like Auletta to act as their Boswell. "You cannot be a legend unless someone chronicles you. It means nothing unless you tell someone. They got it, but now everyone has to know it."

Former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said letting Auletta interview President Clinton would have been "a pure nightmare. Ken is charming and disarming and a good conversationalist and Clinton would find it interesting talking to him. God knows where the conversation would have gone."

And maybe the best reason for talking to Auletta came from producer Sean Daniel: "Ken's going to do a really good story whether you talk to him or not. There's more to be gained by participating."

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