THE ADVENTURES OF DELLA FEMINA

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As a boy, one of my favorite movies was "The Adventures of Marco Polo," all about the famed Venetian traveler of the 13th century.

The movie starred, improbably, Gary Cooper as a young rake, climbing from gondolas to balconies and cuckolding elderly husbands, with a little sword play tossed in. In recent years I've caught the flick again and must admit, it's pretty bad.

To start off, Coop was never meant to wear tights and doublets. Errol Flynn might get away with that stuff, or Doug Fairbanks, but not Gary Cooper. Alan Hale was in there, too, another unlikely Venetian. Lana Turner got a screen credit as a "handmaiden." And Basil Rathbone was, as always, an excellent villain, who had trained hawks that would pluck out victims' eyes.

Not that the movie was dull. During its 100 minutes of playing time, Coop (as Marco) discovered gunpowder and pasta, crossed mountain ranges and deserts, became a favorite in the court of Kublai Khan, wooed Binnie Barnes and outwitted the Vizier (Rathbone) and his ferocious hawks, returning to Venice a wealthy man and something of a hero, just for going that far and getting back. No business class in the 1200s.

Compared with Jerry Della Femina, Marco Polo was a nerd.

You know Jerry, of course. Big Madison Avenue ad man. Shaved head. Large man, though recently slimmed down. Italian by origin, like Marco. Never seen him in tights and doublet. Not sure if he's Venetian. Sports a trimly clipped beard. Last time I saw him, having lunch at the Four Seasons, he was as tanned as a good suitcase. Must have been traveling; we haven't had much sun in New York.

Married to a professional broadcaster named Judy Licht.

Anyway, here's what Jerry's been up to recently. Jerry fans will recall he sold his agency to what he calls "the Frenchies," or as Fleet Street prefers to call them, those "garlic-breathed bastilles!" The fascinating part of this is that Jerry seems to have sold the shop twice to the same bunch of Frenchies. How he did that, I can't begin to explain. Then, having agreed to a non-compete clause, he found the inevitable loopholes and went right back into the business as "Jerry Inc.," not being allowed to use his last name.

He and Judy (the memsahib) have done a pilot (or several shows by this time) for NY 1, the year-old Time Warner all-news TV channel in New York.

And Jerry now has two restaurants and one grocery store in East Hampton near where he and Judy have an absolutely spectacular house on the dunes. I've been to the house twice, the last time being Fourth of July when no less than Barbra Streisand was in attendance.

So all seems to be going splendidly for Mr. Della Femina, right?

Well, except that some of his partners are feuding with other of his partners. And if there's a hurricane, it's hasta la vista house! And Jerry may be going to jail.

First, the partners, and I am indebted to The New York Observer on this. When Jerry and ad man Larry Dunst and builder Ben (Contractor to the Stars) Krupinski opened their first restaurant in East Hampton (the one on North Main Street next to the fire house, where the Chinese restaurant used to be), they got a restaurant pro named Drew Nieporent to work with them. Drew is a burly, delightful chap who once informed a customer who didn't like his placement, "You make the table, the table doesn't make you." The customer, instead of thanking Mr. Nieporent for what seems excellent counsel, threw a punch.

Then Jerry et al bought an old marina on Three Mile Harbor, renamed it East Hampton Point and spiffied up the place marvelously. If there is a more delightful situation from which to watch a sunset than the verandah of East Hampton Point, with glass in hand, I cannot name it. But now Drew Nieporent is out. He has no problems with partners in other eateries (Coppola, de Niro, Madonna, Ian Shrager among them) but only with the East Hampton crowd. The difficulty? An argument over the "sweat equity" put into the two operations by Mr. Nieporent. A solution is said to be near.

As to hurricanes, when first I inquired of Mr. Della Femina if he worried about his splendid house on the dunes and its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean (perhaps 50 yards from the surf at mean high tide), he replied with an admirable, and colorful, brevity, that he began to tremble in bed at night "with the very first drop of rain."

Regarding possible jail time, when Jerry signed off on the Don Imus show recently and Imus tossed the usual, "see you soon," Jerry promptly responded, "Yeah, in about three to five."

The problem is that East Hampton Village has Jerry up on charges, 26 alleged zoning violations (The East Hampton Star is my source on this one) at his Red Horse Market. What happened was that last October Jerry and partner David Silver set up an outdoor display of bales of hay, pumpkins and flowers.

In East Hampton, the village insists, you can't do stuff like that. These things are construed as "signs," and "outdoor advertising," even the pumpkins. Criminal behavior! So Jerry was pulled in, handcuffed, printed, and was in court the other day. A decision is set to be handed down May 16. During the trial Jerry (how unlike him) kept his mouth shut. His lawyer did the talking: "Is dirt a sign? Is a tree a sign?"

On emerging, Jerry told the press that he had "confidence in the system." And that, "If I wanted to advertise, I would advertise. I think I know what advertising is."

He sounded happy. Jerry loves ink. He loves trouble. Eight hundred years ago he would have been in Cathay inventing gunpowder and pasta, in doublet and tights.

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