28 MAY 1988, Page 40

High life

Telling tales


feel as if the times are a-changin' in the Big Bagel. Perhaps it's only wishful think- ing on my part, but something is blowin' in the wind. According to my friend the writer Michael Thomas, it has to do with the social warp. It is coming unravelled. Michael thinks that it all began when Nancy the First blew into town and blew right out again when she realised she was presiding over a table that was made up of Madame Claude alumnae. Pat Lawford had performed a similar exodus the week before, during a Swifty Lazar dinner. Apparently La Lawford felt she was badly seated. Had she bothered to ask me I could have saved her the limo ride by telling her that anyone who dines with Lazar is automatically badly seated. Oh, well, it had to come to an end, didn't it? Not surprisingly, no sooner have the proles begun to stir than two books appear to make them even more restless. One of them, by my old friend Nick Dunne, is an anatomy of the alpha and omega of Manhattan's social life, an opus that is described as a roman a clef by the publisher. The pre-publication publicity had most of us expecting a Capote-like exposé of the egregious phonies who run this town, but alas, it is nothing of the kind. Again according to Michael Thomas, the hardest thing in the world is for a writer who moves in smart circles to forgo the caviar and take 'a hearty chomp out of the hand that's offering it'.

Truman baby did it and lived to regret it. Dunne will regret not doing it when his liver gives out. Truman was a bitch, Nick is a very nice man. Therein lies the differ- ence. Truman also had more talent, which in today's culture has absolutely nothing to do with success. In Dunne's book there are thinly disguised portraits of Jerry Zipkin (the man who is doing for the White House what Voltaire did for Sans Souci), of the clients of Mortimer's (I stopped reading as soon as I realised I wasn't included) and of the Gutfreunds (the Bonnie and Clyde of social climbing). Every character shows a versatility of venality but Dunne pulls his punches, so much so, in fact, that no one has even bothered to sue. Shame on you, Nick.

Edward Stewart's Privileged Lives is the other book the masses will be waving when the tumbrils start to roll down Fifth Ave- nue. It is a fictionalised version of the von Bulow and Crispo cases, the latter being the art dealer who was involved in a sado-masochistic murder of a homosexual male model. (Crispo is doing a Taki at present.) In Lives Sunny von Bulow mira- culously wakes up from her coma and promptly sets out to prove that her hus- band was framed. There is an excellent description of her mother (now in the sauna-like place below) and the economic and political clout of her family. The author clinches his case with the 'second syringe', which the accusers of the fictional Claus tried to frame him with. The irony of It all is that it was Nick Dunne, writing as a journalist, who first uncovered the 'second syringe'.

What is interesting, however, is Ste- wart's comments. It seems that attorneys for various people of the extended Bulow family took a look at the pre-publication copies and put a high-priced scare into the publisher. Stewart stood tough. A libel action against his book by the luminaries stung by his quill would, he surmised, land them in civil court, where the presumption of innocence and the Fifth Amendment would be useless.

For once the publishers stood by their author, and the book survived. And it's a hell of a good read. Perhaps the British publishing world could read a lesson into all this, but I doubt it. Just as I doubt that Nancy the First will finally learn her lesson and let Reagan be Reagan, and not what Arm-and-Hammer wants him to be. And speaking of the Hammer, he first managed to get his foot in the White House door through — yes, a lady mystic and someone I happen to know, and I will tell you all about it next week, while Nancy will be dining with people far worse than the Manhattan jet set.