Elaine's Crowd Gathers to Say Good Bye

By Murray Weiss | December 10, 2010 4:34pm 
Elaine Kaufman attends the 11th Annual Living Landmarks Gala at The Plaza Hotel November 3, 2004 in New York City.
Elaine Kaufman attends the 11th Annual Living Landmarks Gala at The Plaza Hotel November 3, 2004 in New York City.
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Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

By Murray Weiss

DNAinfo Contributing Columnist

The Frank Campbell Funeral Home employee checked his watch.

It was 8:24 p.m. and he was still helping people off the elevator. He was puzzled, and had every reason to be. The "wake" for Elaine Kaufman was scheduled to run from 6 to 9 p.m., but as the clock ticked closer to 9, well-heeled people dressed in overcoats and minks were still gathering to pay their respects.

Even after her death, the Elaine’s crowd was still on Elaine’s Time.

On a typical evening at her salon, the beloved Empress herself rarely arrived much before 9 p.m. Her crowd usually poured through the doors of her restaurant around 10. So it was only fitting that there was a crush at Frank Campbell’s late into the evening, leaving the workers wondering if their night would ever end.

"She's still bringing people together," Dominic Chianese said as he stood a few feet from a photo of Elaine and Robert Altman, the director. There were beautiful photos – mostly black and whites taken by Jessica Burstein – ringing the perimeter. Elaine with her friend George Steinbrenner. Elaine with the Stanley Cup. And Elaine by herself.

The crowd was top shelf — celebrities, actors, doctors, print reporters, radio reporters, TV reporters, the Queens District Attorney, the Yankees president, the FBI, NYPD, the fire chief, a football team owner's son, saloon keepers, bartenders, a few Palm Beach types and all sorts in between of regulars in Elaine's orbit.

Steve Levy, the security maven, leaned in to me at one point. "You know what I think?" he said in a whisper. "I think Elaine was murdered."

"Then there must be 100 suspects," I said.

"Yeah. And they’re all women," he said with a smile.

Elaine had a reputation for occasionally being difficult — especially to women. There may be some truth to it. But the truth is Elaine probably helped more women in her life than the entire National Organization For Women.

Later, the crowd moved to her restaurant and it was filled and festive from front to back. The bar was three deep. The tables were brimming with people and food and bottles of wine and drinks. There was even a toast and a standing ovation for the staff “for putting up with us.”

If Elaine's remains like this, the place will never close.