The Celebrity Next Door

Presenting some of the county's most celebrated citizens.



Simply Superlative

 

Who's the grooviest celebrity in the county? The most resilient? The most generous? We've surveyed our home-based crew of bold-faced names in these and other categories to find those who stand out in any crowd, no matter how fabulous

 

Resilient Martha Stewart

 

When life (or the judicial system) hands this guru of gracious living lemons, she not only makes fresh-squeezed lemonade, but garnishes it with a sprig of fresh-cut mint—from her garden, of course—and serves it with a batch of home-baked lemon-mousse tartlets for good measure.

 

Martha Stewart’s been up and she’s been down, and now she’s back up—way up. Who else could turn a stint in the Big House into a personal makeover and personality rehab? Not only is the 64-year-old, who spent five months in prison for lying to authorities about her 2001 sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock, back, she’s bigger (biz-wise), thinner (figure-wise), and, some say, more relaxed. “She definitely seems nicer now—sunnier, warmer, kinder, and more at ease with others,” says her former longtime personal trainer, Lisa Lynn of Norwalk. “When she returned, she was just calmer.”

 

Bedford’s Bounce-Back Kid (she has houses elsewhere, but home is where the ankle cuff confines) may well be one of the only convicted felons to leave prison richer and more popular than when she entered. While M. Diddy (her prison nickname, a play on hip-hop star P. Diddy) fine-tuned her microwave gourmet cooking skills, crafted origami cranes for a holiday decoration contest, and foraged for wild dandelions at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia stock tripled; Stewart’s current net worth is estimated at $970 million.

 

“If I were to look up the word ‘resilient’ in the next edition of Webster's, it would have her picture in there,” says Stew Leonard, Jr., of Westport, president and CEO of the Stew Leonard’s grocery chain, who has known Stewart for more than 30 years. (He pushed her shopping cart to her car at the store’s Norwalk location when Stewart first started her in-home catering business in nearby Westport.) “She’s unflappable. She puts the bulldozer in forward and keeps going.”

 

Lisa Lynn agrees. “Martha is absolutely resilient; she has this—and these are her words—‘make-it-work’ philosophy. She’s a can-do girl.” Indeed, Lynn says she received a call from Stewart the day Stewart was sentenced, asking her to meet her at her gym. “Her staff was there and they were freaked out, and she was consoling them, literally holding their hands, saying it was going to be all right. They all were cleaning out their desks, and she said, ‘We’re not going anywhere; keep coming to work.’ I remember her saying to me, ‘If I can get through this, I can get through anything.’”

 

And get through it she did. “I think she doesn’t sweat the small stuff as much now,” says Lynn, who adds that “just like a good grandma,” Stewart always makes sure that Lynn’s children get home-baked cookies when they visit her. Now busier than ever, Stewart’s got a finger in every piece of her empire’s home-baked pie: magazines, books, furnishings, even a new line of house designs, and two new TV shows hatched while behind bars. Indeed, her influence is such that after she wore her famous “prison poncho” on her daytime Martha show, 7,500 of them—at $50 a pop—were sold within 48 hours.

When not taking care of business, Stewart pops into the William Nichols gourmet shop in Katonah (she’s partial to the oatmeal-cherry cookies and chicken salad, according to co-owner Jeff Goodwin), and works out twice a week in her home gym with Michael Dedesco of Body Fit Personal Training in Cross River. “She is absolutely resilient,” Dedesco says. “When she was told by the parole board that she couldn’t go to her gym because it was located in another building on her property, we worked out in her living room; she sucked it up and worked out harder than ever.”

 

“When I saw her before she went to prison, I told her, ‘You will be bigger and better than you’ve ever been,’” Stew Leonard, Jr., recalls.  “I was right. Look at her now.” Indeed, Martha Stewart has proved herself to be the quintessential Comeback Queen. And that, as she’d say, is a good thing.

—Laurie Yarnell

 

 

Reclusive David Letterman

 

In the nearly quarter century since he started beaming into America’s homes, David Letterman has remade late-night TV, as well as much of popular culture, in his own image: wry, cynical, goofy, and smart-alecky. With his gap-toothed grin and over-active eyebrows, the 58-year-old, Indiana-born comic has entertained millions of viewers with his attitude of hey, folks, it’s only television. His schticks—Stupid Pet Tricks, Top Ten lists, Viewer Mail—have become staples of office water-cooler chatter. “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” he has said. 

 

Yet this high-profile funny man is Westchester’s most reclusive resident. The North Salem homeowner is obsessively private: you won’t run into him at a gala for the Katonah Museum of Art or any other favorite causes of the North County horse set. “I never go out. I stay home and I just watch baseball games,” Letterman once told the wife of an NBC colleague who tried in vain to invite him to their home for dinner, according to Bill Carter’s book, The Late Shift.

 

Indeed, Letterman’s cone of silence has grown even harder to pierce since he became a father for the first time at age 56 with his longtime girlfriend, Regina Lasko, in 2003. Late Show crewmembers refuse to share tidbits about their boss, for fear of upsetting him. Even the proprietor of the Kingsley General Store in North Salem, which Letterman occasionally visits, refuses to say anything specific about his reclusive customer: “He’s just a regular guy.” Click! (Any fears, unfortunately, are not baseless: in March, a handyman on Letterman’s Montana ranch was arrested on charges of allegedly plotting to kidnap Letterman’s infant son, Harry Joseph, and his nanny for $5 million in ransom.)

 

Those outsiders who have managed to briefly break through the cocoon say that underneath, Letterman is a down-to-earth guy. A few years back, North Salem Highway Superintendent Drew Outhouse told the Journal News that he and his road crew often saw Letterman jogging. “He’s not a happy guy in the morning. We’ll all wave at him, and he doesn’t wave back,” Outhouse reported. “Sometimes he’ll give us one finger.” The remark was picked up by the newswires and, the next thing Outhouse knew, Letterman himself phoned him while taping his show. Letterman eventually got Outhouse to admit on the air that he had never seen the Late Show host give him the “high sign.” “He was a good Joe about it,” says Outhouse today. “He bought all of us highway guys lunch the next day from North Salem Cuisine. He waves now, but he hasn’t been running as much.”

 

Earlier this year Letterman was called for jury duty in White Plains. “He didn’t try to get out of it,” says Westchester Commissioner of Juries Frances Tursi. Even after it was explained to him that the trial might last several weeks, Letterman made it plain that “he came prepared to serve as long as it took,” Tursi says, but he was excused from serving.

Maybe the lawyers involved simply didn’t want to see their names wind up in some Top Ten list. As he recounted his brush with the legal system on that night’s show, Letterman leeringly described Tursi as “one hot woman.” “I was embarrassed for weeks,” says the 57-year-old grandmother, laughing.

—Mark Frankel

 

 

Shy Donald J. Trump

 

The years leading up to The Apprentice were not so good for Donald Trump. His casinos were going broke. He was in the midst of a bitter divorce with ex-wife Ivana. And he had accrued a sizable debt of $900 million. With his luck running out and his bills piling up, what did Trump do? He wrote a business book, The Art of the Deal, and considered a bid for the 2000 presidential election. Now that takes guts.

 

“To survive a process as torturous and unpredictable as debt workout requires a large dose of gumption,” writes Timothy L. O’Brien, New York Times reporter and author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald. “Donald had gumption in spades.”

Now back in the black, Trump’s bravado hasn’t stopped. Take this year’s Emmys, for example, where he donned denim overalls and belted out the theme to Green Acres. Certainly not shy. And he’s famously not one to hold back touting his own accomplishments. “People pay a lot more to live in my buildings because of the association with me,” Trump writes on his blog.

 

Trump, 59, touts the luxurious penthouse apartment he owns in his namesake Manhattan high-rise; his lavish 24-acre, 128-room Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, FL; his sprawling 200-acre estate in Bedford with a 14-room Georgian mansion; his golf courses in Briarcliff Manor, New Jersey, Florida, and California; and his 35-year-old third wife, model Melania Knauss. He also brags about his TV show, The Apprentice, currently in its fourth season, and his name-brand water, Trump Ice, which sports a not-quite-smiling photo of its founder on the label. Some would let success speak for itself. Not Trump. “I’m not shy because life is short and you have to try to have a good time,” he says. “You can’t take yourself too seriously.”

 

But there’s one subject Trump takes very seriously: golf. “He’s the best golfer I know,” says Louis Cappelli, president of Cappelli Development in Valhalla. “I haven’t beaten him yet.” Cappelli is currently developing a Trump Plaza in New Rochelle, scheduled to open in 2007.

 

“I would describe his personality as Empire State-sized,” says biographer O’Brien, adding that Trump’s voracious appetite doesn’t stop at the boardroom. “Donald told me that he constantly dreams about sex and that he never takes Viagra.”

 

And he loves to play hardball. William Zanker, president of The Learning Annex, booked Trump as the keynote speaker at his Real Estate Wealth Expo earlier this year. “The boldest thing I’ve seen him do was get a raise from $1 million to $1.5 million for a one-hour speech,” says Zinker. “He was prepared to walk. I threatened, I screamed, but in the end, I paid.”

 

“When has he not been bold?” asks Apprentice right-hand woman Carolyn Kepcher. “He’s not afraid to tell you what’s on his mind, and that’s why he’s so successful. He comes up with things during The Apprentice boardrooms that shock me to this day.”

Still, O’Brien’s book contends that Trump’s wealth is vastly overestimated (he surmises The Donald’s actual worth to be around $385 million); the ratings for The Apprentice are down, and open-space enthusiasts have raised $1 million to stop Trump from developing his Seven Springs property in Bedford. (Trump’s lawyers contend that Seven Springs will not be sold for preservation). But you’ll never hear any of this from him. All you’ll get instead is an earful about his successes—or maybe a good laugh.

—Marisa LaScala

 

Citizen Robert Kennedy Jr.

 

With his telegeneic good looks, his family wealth, and his nonpareil connections, Bobby Kennedy Jr. could easily coast through life. Instead, the 53-year-old scion of one of the country’s leading political families has spent the last 22 years crusading to protect the environment, the waters of the Hudson River and its tributaries. “God communicates with us through nature,” Kennedy is fond of saying.

 

Armed with a law degree from the University of Virginia (like most men in his family, he went to Harvard undergrad), Kennedy has combined his legal training, political instincts and smooth, persuasive manner to become one of the foremost environmental lawyers in the country. As the senior attorney for the million-strong National Resources Defense Council and chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper, he has rallied public opposition to the Indian Point nuclear plant and successfully sued New York City to stop it from polluting Catskill streams. Since 1986, the White Plains-based Pace University Environmental Litigation Clinic, which Kennedy founded, has won more than 300 legal actions against polluters. For these and other achievements, he can be called Westchester County’s best public citizen.

 

“Bobby’s a terrific strategist,” says Hudson Riverkeeper Alex Matthiessen. “We in the Hudson Valley are awfully lucky to have the benefits of his energy and talent.”

The Mount Kisco resident hasn’t limited his activism to the safety of the courtroom or to causes popular close to home. In 2000, he protested the U.S. Navy’s continued bombardment of an artillery range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques—and was arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail for trespassing on government property.

His latest book, Crimes Against Nature, is subtitled “How George W. Bush and his Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy.” In it, Kennedy cites the health hazards posed by mercury, ozone, and other particulates discharged daily by the nation’s 1,100 coal-burning power plants. In this case, Kennedy’s concern is partially that of a parent: three of his six children (he has two children from a former marriage) have asthma, a burgeoning illness he attributes to “bad air.”

 

Growing up in Virginia as the third child of the late New York Senator Robert Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, he was known as “Nature Boy” by his friends. These days, Kennedy, who lives with his second wife, architect Mary Richardson,  enjoys the ancient sport of falconry and cares for injured wildfowl as a state-licensed bird rehabilitator. He is also an avid sailor and kayaker, once having kept a small skiff at an Ossining marina which he used on the Hudson to fish and waterski.

 

Many wonder if Kennedy will someday follow his father,  uncles, and cousins into the family business, politics. But he has said his goal is more tangible: to have his kids see fishermen pulling edible fish from the Hudson the way their ancestors did. “In doing that, they connect themselves to 350 years of New York history,” he has said. “They then understand that they are part of something larger than themselves. They’re part of a community.”

—Malerie Yolen-Cohen

 

 

Reliable Mariano Rivera

 

The Sandman. The Assassin. The Equalizer. Signor Magnifico. These are some of the nicknames of Mariano Rivera, a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees. Pardon me. Did I say a relief pitcher? Rivera, 36, is the relief pitcher in baseball today. And many contend that the Panamanian-born Rivera, who lives in Purchase, is the finest reliever in the history of the game. His pitching prowess is as predictable as sunrise—and his fast ball is almost as blinding. Indeed, Mr. Reliable may be the most fitting moniker.  

 

“Based on durability and his post-season success, I’d say he’s the greatest closer ever,” says White Plains resident Sweeny Murti, who covered the Yankees for WFAN radio for the past five years. “Generally, baseball closers don’t have a long shelf life, four to five years, but Mariano has done it for 10 years.” Tom Kelly, former manager of the Minnesota Twins, once said Rivera is so good he “should be banned from baseball.”

 

Three decades ago, relievers were simply relievers, but the position has since evolved into numerous subcategories: long relief, middle relief, left-handed specialist, set-up man, and closer. Rivera, a closer, is brought in during the late stages of the game to finish off the opposing team. (He has 379 career saves, the fifth all-time-best record.) Though closers usually only pitch one or two innings, they work under intense pressure.

 

That’s where Rivera’s strong nerves and unshakable confidence come into play. “He laughs a lot in the clubhouse, but you can tell he knows when business is business,” says Murti. “When you see him on the mound in the ninth inning, he’s not laughing at all.”

Off the field Mr. Reliable acts like Mr. Humble. Says Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports, a sports marketing and memorabilia firm in New Rochelle: “He’s an extremely honest, friendly person who tends to lose the Mariano Rivera thing and just becomes ‘Mo.’”

 

Rivera’s humility derives from his deep-seated Christian faith. He often can be seen reading the Bible in the Yankees clubhouse. During the off-season, he spends much of his time in Panama, working for Christian ministries. “He’s very spiritual,” says Steiner. “My favorite Mariano quote is, ‘Say it with conviction or don’t say it at all.’”

 

The son of a fisherman, Rivera grew up poor. But poverty is now a thing of the past: his 2005 salary was $10.5 million. Still, such wealth has not changed his attitude toward his fans. “He’s been in the store once,” says Sleepy Hollow resident Amanda Flores, assistant manager of the Yankees Clubhouse Shop in the White Plains Galleria. “Everyone who meets him says he’s a down-to-earth guy.”

 

Although Rivera prefers to stay “at home with his family,” according to Steiner, he can be seen working out at NYSC in White Plains, or sometimes dining at P.F. Chang’s, Zanaro’s,  and the Cheesecake Factory. On December 3, you can also catch him at Last Licks in Armonk, where he’ll be doing an afternoon signing. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Rivera’s Panamanian charities.

—John Bruno Turiano

 

Smooth Rob Thomas

 

Lesson No. 1 of Rock Stardom: There’s a significant difference between cool and smooth. For example, recording a hit song is cool; having your debut album go

platinum 15-times over is smooth. Collaborating with another top-notch musician is cool; watching a musical legend like Mick Jagger or Willie Nelson record the songs you wrote for them is smooth. Winning a Grammy Award is cool; winning three Grammys for your 1999 hit single with Carlos Santana is (you guessed it) smooth.

 

All of which should earn Bedford resident Rob Thomas, the 33-year-old lead singer and front man for the band Matchbox Twenty, the hands-down title as the smoothest resident of our county. His achievements are all the more extraordinary given his hard-knocks backstory.

 

Thomas was born on a U.S. military base in Germany in 1972; his parents divorced when he was a toddler, and he subsequently spent much of his childhood shuttling back and forth between his mother in Columbia, SC, and his grandmother, who reportedly sold moonshine and marijuana, near Myrtle Beach. By the time he was 17, Thomas was practically homeless, crashing at friends’ houses and sleeping in their parents’ cars. His most reliable comfort? Music.

 

It was his own music that fueled Thomas’s  swift ascent up the music industry ladder. By his mid-20s, he and Matchbox Twenty were multi-platinum recording artists, having sold more than 10 million copies of their debut CD, Yourself or Someone Like You, before the turn of the millennium. But it was Thomas’s 1999 multiple-Grammy-winning hit “Smooth,” which he wrote for and sang with Carlos Santana, that catapulted him to superstardom. That same year, he married Marisol Maldonado, a former Victoria’s Secret model, who Thomas referred to in “Smooth” as his “Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa.”

 

Despite his rags-to-riches success story, Thomas appears to take his fame in stride, and he displays a special empathy for kids. For the last five years, he has performed at WPLJ-FM’s annual holiday fundraising concert for Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla.  “He’s just so warm and friendly, and he works very hard to arrange his schedule so that he can attend the performance each year,” says Connie Cornell, the hospital’s director of

public relations. 

 

After the show, according to Lena Cavanna, Blythedale’s director of community relations, “he and Marisol spend time with each child. He goes back to the units to visit children who are too sick to attend the performance.” That’s not Thomas’s only philanthropy. He has donated the proceeds from his 2002 song, “A New York Christmas,” to benefit the hospital. He and Marisol have also established the Sidewalk Angels Foundation, a New York-based non-profit that works with urban charities around the country to help the destitute and homeless.

 

These days, with Matchbox Twenty on hiatus, Thomas is touring to promote his hit solo CD, Something to Be. When not on the road, he can often be found dining with Marisol at Le Jardin Du Roi in Chappaqua, or at Grappolo Locanda across the street, where, says owner Tom Cuomo, “they smile, say hi, and shake hands with the waitstaff. They’re a pleasure to have.” He adds, “You meet people who expect ‘special treatment’ because of their status, but he is nothing like that.” 

 

Smooth.

 

—Carol Caffin

 

Generous Bonnie Trotta

 

Bonnie Trotta never wanted to be a lady who lunches. From an early age, she learned that wealth brought certain responsibilities, too. “Helping others is something my parents always did,” Trotta explains, curled up in a chair in her Mount Kisco living room as she recounts the myriad causes her mother, Irene Mennen Hunter, an heir to the Mennen personal-care products fortune, championed, such as recording books for the blind in her childhood home in North Adams, MA.

 

Trotta got her first taste of volunteering at age 16, playing with children at the local orphanage. “I got the message early on that, if you are blessed with intelligence, good health and some money, you have a calling to give back to the community.”

 

That she has. Since moving to Westchester in 1975, the 58-year-old Trotta has given away  more than $15 million to local charities and civic groups, earning her the title of Westchester’s most philanthropic resident. At November’s Northern Lights Gala to raise funds for the Northern Westchester Hospital emergency department, for example, Trotta matched others’ donations two-to-one, contributing a total of $1 million herself. “I

wanted to structure the gift so that it increased itself and drew awareness to the need for a top-notch emergency department in Northern Westchester, ” she says. Five years prior, she had donated $1 million to the hospital’s Neuroscience Institute.

 

“For her, giving back is a duty,” says Bedford resident John Farr, a fellow board member at the Northern Westchester Hospital. “She doesn’t just write checks—she rolls her sleeves up and works.”

 

For example, when the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester holds its annual galas, the flowers are free. “We pick the flowers from my garden, and Bonnie and I arrange them into centerpieces with the flower committee,” says longtime friend Seema Boesky.

 

Boesky recalls the first time she saw her friend in full fundraising mode. “I came to the Boys and Girls Club back in the late 1980s, when it was on its knees,” she says.  “After about the third meeting, Bonnie came up to me and said, ‘If we each wrote a check for a few million, we could build a pool.’ She has been approaching me like that for years—and it is hard to turn her down.” (The friends share other interests: Trotta bred her pet Bichon Frise with Boesky’s Maltese to produce puppies they call “Trotskys.”)

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