"Is that her real name? Sugar?" asked a young woman on her way into the ladies' room at Gordon restaurant. "I had a dog named Sugar."
"Well, it's really a funny story," said a male companion. "But--well--I'll tell you when you come out."
Sugar Rautbord, the former Donna Kaplan (of the steel Kaplans), was upstairs in a party room doing mainly two things. First, she was getting her picture taken. Older suburban-looking ladies clicked in her direction with Instamatics; hotshot society paparazzi with ponytails and silk shirts posed her with other big shots and snapped at her with Nikons; and Channel Seven cameramen strolled around with their TV floodlights--which made Sugar's guests squint.
Second, Sugar was signing copies of her new book, Sweet Revenge (same initials as Sugar has), which people were lining up to buy for $21.60 at a table staffed by Kroch's and Brentano's employees.
"We're Sugar's Chicago bookseller," said Bill Rickman, president of Kroch's. He looked around the tony party room, which was something like a cross between the old Stork Club in New York and Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans. "We call this catering," he said, pointing to a huge stack of sexy red books on a table covered by a starched white cloth. Alongside was a strongbox and a credit-card processor. "We cater books."
Then Sugar's Chicago bookseller said some things about Sugar.
"She's talented," he said. "She's obviously attractive. She's got that something special--she went to Sarah Lawrence. She hasn't flirted her way to the top."
Sugar sat nearby at her autographing table in a black dress. Her chest, shoulders, and arms were covered in black fishnet; at her waist, the skirt poofed out like a little black cloud. It swung around with her every move. Sugar kept putting her pen down to pose for photos with various guests. Her guests included socialites, social climbers, Abra, various members of the press including Norman Mark and Kup, politicians such as Bill Singer, and a few uninvited freeloaders. David Grafton, a friend of Sugar's from New York who wrote a book about Babe Paley and her sisters, ran around chatting with everyone.
Sugar's book jacket says her novel is about Kingman Beddell, whose wife, a model and socialite named Fling, gets murdered. The story unfolds in the worlds of art and organized crime. The book jacket describes the characters and the story in terms like this: "dollars drivenÉupper crust in the age of greed...art scams...steamy affairs...high-stakes business deals...secret intrigues...scandalous results." It says that if The Bonfire of the Vanities rang a death knell, Sugar's book sings the requiem.
At one point I wondered out loud whether Sugar's swingy skirt--swinging high above her black high heels-- was in two parts. "No, it's all one," said a woman with a knowing voice. She identified herself as Karen Patterson, Sugar's assistant for three and a half years. Patterson grew up in the northwest suburbs. She said she did a lot of research for Sugar's book.
Nearby, three magnificent, glamorous models stood like statues. They wore claylike smiles, caked-on makeup, and snazzy hairdos as they stood catatonic in the dim but bustling room. The trio had on red dresses that matched Sugar's book jacket. One dress was very short with spaghetti straps; one was sequined, with a scallop in the middle of the miniskirt that was level with the lower part of the model's panty line; the third dress was so long that its hem rolled under the model's high heels.
Each model stood still and smiled with big red lips. Each one carried a tray on one upwardly raised hand, holding a copy of Sweet Revenge. Strewn around on the trays were bookmarks wrapped in plastic and little red cardboard booklets containing samples of Sweet Revenge perfume.
"Are you giving these perfume samples and bookmarks away?" someone asked.
"Oh. We don't know," said one. All three backed away in unison, breaking their stance, so the asker wouldn't be able to take anything off their trays until they found out.
Host Gordon Sinclair said, "Oh, there's the mayor's wife." But it wasn't Maggie Daley, it was Heather Bilandic, looking rather casual (daytime country club) next to her husband, Michael, now an Illinois supreme court justice.
Gordon made sure all the guests saw what he considered to be the big hit of the party, a new dessert called Sweet Revenge. From a distance it looked like a highball.
Gordon and his new chef, a young, chubby, shaggy-haired guy in chef whites named Andrew Rothschild (straight from the River Cafe in New York), kept bringing out single servings--also on a tray. They had the dessert photographed with several of the guests. "I made a few dozen," said Rothschild, who invented the concoction.
Both Gordon and Rothschild described what was in the confection (their versions varied slightly): semisweet chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate, unsweetened chocolate. "Not cheap," said Gordon. "And it's in a raspberry puree puddle--a sauce."
"It's a three-tier frozen souffle with a candy basket," said Rothschild. "It's suppposed to resemble a candle. It tastes better than it looks."
"It was Sugar's idea," said Gordon. "It's a benefit from this book-signing. This is my 16th year. This is the first of 16 dessert creations in honor of my Sweet 16."
Click, flash, click went the cameras. Gordon smiled. Sugar signed. And a lot of people who hadn't seen each other for a while kissed each other's cheeks, and then asked the bartenders for a cocktail.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mitchell Canoff.