Party Coverage: Scene City
By JACOB BERNSTEIN
How many red carpet interviews did Sean Penn give for his Haiti charity, J/P HRO (short for Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization), which held its first major New York gala at Sotheby’s last Friday?
Instead, Mr. Penn rolled in at 7:30 p.m. in his dark blue suit, posed for photos and headed upstairs to the banquet center, which was filled with art world types, fashionistas and entertainment industry bigwigs.
Combativeness may be built into Mr. Penn’s personality, but among his peers, he is a popular guy.
Just ask Gayle King, the night’s M.C., who was asking guests for stories about her host. “Sean wrote me a letter,” she said. “And when Sean Penn writes you a letter, you say yes.”
Or Donna Karan, who wore a sleeveless black jumpsuit, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She has raised funds for Mr. Penn’s charity to help it rebuild homes for displaced residents in Haiti, although she knew little about Haiti before the devastating 2010 hurricane. “I said, ‘Where’s Haiti?’” she said.
Around 8:30 p.m., Naomi Campbell, Andy Cohen, Tom Freston and Carey Lowell moved toward the dining area. Ms. King hit the stage and talked about Haiti’s grinding poverty and environmental decline, as well as Mr. Penn’s new initiative to reforest the country.
He even pointed out what a “bad idea” it was to allow him to speak in front of an audience “after 5 o’clock” when “the bar is full.”
Attention turned to the live auction, featuring works by Deborah Kass, Ed Ruscha and Jonas Wood, as well as various vacation packages.
Barry Diller got into a bidding war for a tour of James Turrell’s Roden Crater in Arizona, and ultimately won it for $90,000.
Leonardo DiCaprio, who made a surprise entrance around 9 p.m., won a $25,000 trip of his own to see Cristiano Ronaldo compete in a soccer tournament. Mr. DiCaprio was seated next to Mr. Penn and wore his customary newsboy cap.
A grilled chicken dinner was served and the soul singer Andra Day performed for the crowd, who collectively brought in more than $1 million for the organization, which to date has raised more than $90 million for Haitian relief.
During dessert, friends like Bryan Lourd and Ms. Karan continued to sing Mr. Penn’s praises. A reporter introduced himself for a quick chat, and Mr. Penn agreed, continuing to fret.
While he was glad so many people in Hollywood continue to stand by him, Mr. Penn said he worried about his ability to reach others. “We’ve got to do better at getting the word out to people who can’t afford $25,000,” he said.
And that doesn’t get easier as more geopolitical issues compete for attention. “The world is a mess,” he said.
The changing media landscape adds a wrinkle, too. “I’m an old-school guy,” he said. “I’m never going to be the guy that knows how to use social media.”