Magazine article The New Yorker

ELLEN BARKIN AT HOME; HOUSEKEEPING Series: 2/4

Magazine article The New Yorker

ELLEN BARKIN AT HOME; HOUSEKEEPING Series: 2/4

Article excerpt

Last week, Ellen Barkin was flitting around town promoting "Palindromes," a new movie directed by Todd Solondz, in which she plays the unctuous mother of a pregnant thirteen-year-old girl. Simultaneously, she was carrying on her real life, as a wife (to Ronald Perelman, the Revlon billionaire) and mother (to two children from her previous marriage, with Gabriel Byrne, and to two stepkids), in the Perelmans' five-story town house in the East Sixties. On Monday morning, she was at home, looking trim in a couple of layered T-shirts worn under a saffron-colored hand-knit cardigan, snug jeans, and brown Christian Louboutin boots with tall, spiky red heels. "I have four herniated disks," she said, flashing her squinty eyes. "With a bad back, it's easier to walk on high heels." She was also wearing big diamond earrings and two rings--a vintage Deco diamond on her right hand and a wedding band of diamonds set with a rose-cut nineteenth-century jar diamond on her ring finger--along with a briolette diamond pendant on a platinum-and-diamond chain. "I sleep in them," she said, as she toured the premises with a visitor. She checked in with a driver in the foyer (one of Andy Warhol's famous Maos hung on the wall), nodded to various security men, and consulted with two housekeepers and a chef. She paused in a small sitting room. It had a flat-screen TV on the wall. "The children aren't allowed to have television in their rooms; we all watch in here," she said. "We also have four dogs--a miniature Yorkie, a Maltese, a Wheaten terrier, and a King Charles spaniel. And," she added cheerfully, "I hate them all." The Yorkie, named Scruffy, blew frantically into the room and jumped into her arms. He was impeccably groomed, and he wore a pink leather collar. "My daughter, Romy Byrne, wants him to be a her, in pink," Barkin said. "Romy is twelve, laid back, listless. She'll look at you like this." Barkin slouched back, flopped her arms, pantomimed an imitation of her daughter, just as Romy herself, listless, very pretty, with long light-brown hair, sauntered in, a perfect reflection of her mother's impersonation. After being introduced, she sauntered out with Scruffy. "Romy is beautiful," Barkin said matter-of-factly, but with a corner-of-the-mouth grin. "My fifteen-year-old son, Jack, is sweet. He's a guitarist, who reads only books from the nineteen-sixties and before, and listens only to music from the sixties and before, but Romy is like all the girls who would never speak to me in high school."

The tour continued. "All the beautiful French modern furniture you see here now is the replacement of what I found when I first came to live here, six years ago," she said. "The house was full of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian furniture. Everything was gold. Ronald and I lived together for a year before we got married. After another year with all the gold furniture and gold carpets and gold walls and gold floors, and the dining room all done in navy-blue cashmere, I got to work. It was easy. I had eight billion dollars to spend. When I came, there was no kitchen to speak of. Now we have a huge kitchen with a wall of refrigerators--one dairy, one meat. Ronald is one-hundred-per-cent kosher. I make the brisket on Passover." Laughing, she said, "Ronald has me buy the meat from a kosher butcher shop where everything costs three times as much."

She went on, "The first piece of furniture we bought was for Ronald's bedroom, a Gio Ponti desk and the old matching chair. …

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