Only In New York: Justice, Hollywood-style

CELEBRITIES these days are thrusting themselves into legal cases where they believe they see injustice. Busloads of them, including Woody Harrelson and Gloria Steinem, have joined the campaign to free Mumia Abu- Jamal, probably America's most famous Death Row inmate, whose execution date for killing a Philadelphia policeman is less than two weeks away. This week, meanwhile, should see the release from an upstate New York prison of Precious Bedell, sentenced to life in 1980 for crushing the skull of her two-year-old daughter in a restaurant toilet. If, as expected, Bedell's sentence is reduced and she walks free, she will have Glenn Close to thank. Close has been lobbying for her release for eight years. Not everyone is cheering, though. "Glenn Close should hang her head in shame", blared the New York Post yesterday.

I HAVE SOME sympathy with Victor Botnick, a one-time chief of the New York public hospital system, who was charged last Thursday with "interfering with the performance of a flight crew". Prosecutors allege that Botnick twice let off stink bombs beneath his first class seat on board a TWA aircraft travelling between New York and Paris. The first time was during the take-off of a Boeing 767 at Charles De Gaulle airport on 1 August last year. The stench was so bad, the plane had to return to the gate. All passengers and crew, their eyes watering, were evacuated and the flight was cancelled. Botnick is charged with repeating the prank on New York to Paris flight eight days later. Botnick evidently was displeased with TWA, something to do with botched reservations to Paris for his son's bar mitzvah.

I too have had my moments with TWA. The day I finally lost patience - the issue was missed connections in St Louis - I happened also to be travelling in first class. Having no stink bombs to hand, I simply drank too much wine and bored the poor woman next to me about my hatred for the airline. She listened politely. It was only after we had landed at La Guardia that she introduced me to the captain emerging through the cockpit door. He was a vice-president of TWA - and her husband.

I WILL remember interviewing Quentin Crisp last week, at his favourite Lower East Side diner, for a long time. They will be missing him now, where everyone knew his eating habits. We were mid-way through our interview when suddenly he raised his hand to point to the heavens. "Look, look at that," he said. "What is it?" The sky was brilliant blue and there, high above Manhattan, a message was being written out in white vapour. What was this aircraft trying to communicate? First it drew a large, fluffy, circle, then another. Finally, it puffed out an 'L'. There was no mistaking it, the plane had spelled out "LOO". What on earth? It was only as the pair of us began the very slow walk from the diner to the rooming house where Crisp lived that we saw the message being written out again. This time, it was to the south of us, rather than to the north, and we were looking at it the right way up. "Ah," I explained to Crisp. "007!" He remained puzzled. Had Crisp returned safely from his final trip to the UK, I doubt that going to watch Pierce Brosnan in The World is Not Enough would have been top of his list.

WE WERE a curious mix at the Four Seasons Restaurant last Tuesday for the first in a series of monthly breakfasts to be hosted by Harry Evans, perhaps the second most famous British expatriate in New York after his wife, Tina Brown. This is a familiar rite to those of us who remember the literary breakfasts he used to give until his abrupt exit two years ago from Random House. As we slurped melon slices, he charmed his panel of esteemed experts into telling us why America is crippled by a Congress with no interest in the common good and by an ignorant press. It was fun to watch Leona Helmsley, landlady of swathes of Manhattan, entering the room and calculating where she should sit. She found a space just behind Mort Zuckerman, owner of US News and World Report, and the sponsor of the breakfasts. The event was being filmed and clearly the cameras would be trained on Zuckerman and anyone close by for a part of the time. And Helmsley had something to show off - a 40-carat yellow diamond brooch.

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