Sept. 14 2006 10:52 AM

Event 2: A New Yorker "Talk of the Town" Piece






Charity Begins at Mort's

By Geoffrey Wheatcroft


       Can it really be 30 years since Tom Wolfe introduced the world to Radical Chic?Tempera mutantur, as someone may have observed at Lennie Bernstein's Black Panther party,et nos mutamur in illis. And, if the times change and we change with them, then Radical Chic has become the gentler and kinder Charity Chic.

       What Elizabeth Taylor is to AIDS and Elizabeth Tilberis is to ovarian cancer, Donna Karan is (as it were) to the prostate. And so it was her National Prostate Cancer Coalition which organized last Saturday's fund-raiser at the Hamptons estate of Mortimer Zuckerman, owner of the U.S. News and World Report, among others. Ms. Karan found time from her commercial difficulties (her fashion group Donna Karan International expects to post a $100-million pre-tax loss this year) to arrange the festivities, and her rival, Calvin Klein, found time to introduce rock'n'rapper Mark Wahlberg.

       As befits an evening at Manhattan-on-Sea, the party was graded on strict caste lines. Two hundred dollars bought a C-list ticket for the dance after the dinner in Mr. Zuckerman's barn orné to which the $1,000 B-listers went. A-list--or five-G--donors found themselves in the inner sanctum, taking wine with Ms. Karan's guru Deepak Chopra as well as Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Michael Jackson, Bianca Jagger, Steven Speilberg, Barbra Streisand, and James Brolin. All in all, it was what the Brits would call a luvvies' love-in.

       Donna is a true New Age believer, and the Zuckerman country seat had become a little bit of old Tibet transported to the Atlantic shore. The celebs ate and drank amid power-crystals, a prayer wheel, and Buddhist monks bearing incense, even if they were the only ones there committed to lives of heroic poverty and chastity. Ms. Karan said with feeling, "Prostate cancer isn't a man's disease." Actually, that's just what it is, but she meant that "it affects all of us. These are our fathers, our brothers, our sons, our husbands, our boyfriends." The publisher and prostate survivor Michael Korda put it another way, saying non-too-obliquely that "Men have to change what their idea of sexuality is" after contracting the disease.


       Journalists weren't allowed into the wine-with-Demi sanctum, and, having first braved a picket line of animal-rights protesters shouting, "Leather is prostate cancer for cows!" Ms. Streisand successfully repelled press attempts to ambush her. Maybe she had nothing to add to her recent rhapsodies about Mr. Brolin, the actor she intends to marry: "He's so nurturing. He's my lover and my romantic other self," not to say a man who broke the ice on their first date with the romantic words, "I'm here to empower you."

       Empowerment was in its way the theme of the evening. Amid the celeb overkill, it was easy to forget how deadly serious the cause was. One American man in nine can expect to develop prostate cancer, which is second in the table of lethal cancers for men. Last year, 317,000 Americans were diagnosed with the disease, and 41,000 died of it. But it isn't incurable. Saturday's guest-list brimmed with prostate-cancer sufferers who had lived to tell the tale, as various as Bob Dole, David Koch, and the actors Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.

       If there is an equality in death, there is an inequality in glamour and public concern among diseases. Just as AIDS research now attracts far more bucks per person-with than does research into cardiac disease, so, less than $400 million have been spent so far this decade on prostate-cancer research, against $1.8 billion on breast-cancer research. Anything is welcome which restores the balance--and sees the money go the right place.

       Educated medical opinion is divided on the best form of treatment, but united in a skeptical view of New Age nostrums. Donna and Mort's little function raised $224,000, which is much needed. What some specialists say they don't need are gurus like Deepak Chopra, for all that Michael Milken claims he is in remission from cancer (as well as junk-bondage) thanks to Deepak's massage and meditation.

       At an AIDS fund-raiser not long ago, Elizabeth Taylor told everyone present that they should practice safe sex ever after, "including you married couples." Maybe her five marriages have left Ms. Taylor vague about what used to be called the facts of life, since her advice, if acted on, would mean the imminent end of the human race. In the same way, it's fine for Donna to say to Deepak, "Save the last trance for me." But let's save the funds for serious medical research.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft is the author of The Randlords, and is a contributor to British publications too numerous to mention.