Rush ‘ Molloy

Almost three years after she was first linked with President Clinton, Monica Lewinsky is still trying to negotiate fame’s balance beam.

She wishes people would forget about Monicagate. But there’s nothing like a national scandal to help a gal sell handbags or launch her TV career.

‘I’m still trying to make sense of my life,’ she told us last week. ‘I usually go about my day-to-day business sans makeup and with my hair back.’

Despite her ‘Ninotchka’ disguise, she is usually found out. Lately, the former White House intern has been traveling cross-country, shooting ‘postcards from America’ for British TV. When word leaked that she was due to file a report from Coney Island, so many other camera crews turned up that she had to scratch the shoot. By the time she reached San Francisco, she was taking no chances.

‘We went to rent a car,’ she recalled. ‘Deborah, our producer, handed the lady at the counter our three drivers’ licenses. The lady looked up and said, ‘Ma’am, why do you have Monica Lewinsky’s picture on this driver’s license?’ Deborah said, ‘Well, because Monica Lewinsky is going to be one of the drivers.’ The lady said, ‘Ma’am, where then is Monica Lewinsky?’

‘So Deborah, who’s at this point really flustered, says, ‘She’s outside watching our bags!’ The lady just looked at her, like, ‘Oh yeah, right,’ and said, ‘Ma’am, I’m going to have to get my supervisor.’ We ended up going into the supervisor’s office, so I didn’t have to go into this crowded rent-a-car place.’

After doing a spot from Yosemite, Lewinsky and her crew moved on to San Luis Obispo, Calif., to do a story on the Madonna Inn, where every room has a different, outlandish decor. The owner, Alex Madonna, offered the President’s former paramour the ‘Hearts and Flowers’ suite. She declined, asking instead for a room near her crew.

The hotel proprietor told her over dinner, ‘You’ll never meet anyone who made more mistakes than I did.’

‘Maybe you made a lot of little mistakes,’ replied Lewinsky, ‘but I made one big one.’

That’s about as much as she likes to say nowadays about that unfortunate episode in the Oval Office. Though she recently registered as a Democrat, she won’t hint at whom she’s voting for, explaining, ‘I don’t think it’s anybody’s business.’

She’s far happier than she was a year ago. ‘Every day, I just feel better, more grounded,’ she said.

Is she seeing anyone?

‘I have a lot of amazing men and women in my life — not necessarily romantically!’ Lewinsky said with a laugh.

So guys still stand a chance?

‘Yes, they do,’ she answered.

Having lived in Greenwich Village for just over a year, she says, ‘I’m loving New York.’ Shlepping around the Garment District shopping for fabrics, she finds that ‘people are usually quite professional and friendly. After spending a couple of minutes with me, it’s pretty clear that I’m pretty serious about my business.’

She’s expanded her line of accessories to include eyeglass cases, makeup bags and tissue totes.

Tissue Totes?

‘You know those little packets of tissues?’ she says. ‘When fall and winter come, no true New Yorker is complete without a box of tissues carried with them at all times. So these are fabric covers for the tissue cases. … I think they’re precious!’

Whatever associations her name may have, she says, ‘I want my bags to make a statement that the person who’s carrying it feels good.’

Right now, she’s not using leather or snakeskin — maybe because she knows it’s better to be a friend of animal-rights activists than to be their next celebrity target.

‘I don’t believe in cruelty to animals,’ says Monica, who’s not a vegetarian. ‘I don’t believe in cruelty to anyone! I’m not a die-hard. If at some point I feel (using nonanimal material) is compromising my design, I might consider it differently. For now, I might as well do something that’s also sort of good socially.’

That said, she’s headed next to Australia to bring her handbags to the land of marsupials. She’ll also chat about her new designs on the Oxygen cable network’s ‘Pure Oxygen’ show on Nov. 13 and 14.


Julia Roberts ratted out ‘Sopranos’ star James Gandolfini at last week’s GQ Men of the Year Awards.

Presenting him with one of the mag’s trophies, which were handed out in various categories, the Pretty Woman divulged that, while filming their last movie ‘The Mexican,’ Jim ‘grabbed my a–.’

The confession prompted emcee Dennis Miller to claim, ‘(Gandolfini) once grabbed my a– in Mexico, too!’

Elsewhere in his act, Miller had to do two different shticks on Bush and Gore to allow for the uncertainty of who’ll be elected next month — since the awards don’t air till December. The comic had barely uttered the words ‘President-elect Al Gore’ when he burst out laughing and had to walk offstage to collect himself.

The show, taped at New York’s art-deco Beacon Theater, also saw Susan Sarandon present Elton John with jeweler David Yurman’s Humanitarian Award. Beautiful as Yurman’s gold angel statue was, John envied the male nude sculptures presented to other GQ winners.

‘I thought I was going to get a naked bloke,’ joked John, who was there with companion David Furnish. ‘Everyone else got a naked bloke except the one person who needs a naked bloke.’

Russell Crowe, minus Meg Ryan, wouldn’t pose for photos and made a quick speech, declaring that having GQ acknowledge his ‘Gladiator’ performance meant ‘real fur and short skirts are in!’

Barbara Walters, who presented to ABC colleague Ted Koppel, joked that Koppel is the illegitimate heir of Mad magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman. As to whether Koppel’s hair is real, Walters announced, ‘No, it’s not — it’s Sam Donaldson’s.’


Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, who gave a birthday toast to Hillary Rodham Clinton at a dinner in Ian Schrager’s Hudson Hotel this week, pens a thoughtful essay on politics and freedom in the new Marie Claire. Weinstein recalls the day he and Robert De Niro met Nelson Mandela, who told them that, when he was a political prisoner in South Africa, Thursday was the one day of the week he looked forward to, because it was movie night. ‘Out of the corner of my own tearful eye,’ Weinstein writes, ‘I saw Bob De Niro, a great actor and a tough guy, crying. Whenever I’m on a movie set and things get tough, I think about Nelson Mandela’s Thursday nights and I know I have to push on.’

The must Christmas present for movie buffs and celeb-dependents is ‘Vanity Fair’s Hollywood.’ Graydon Carter and David Friend have assembled the best photography from their mag from 1914 to today — artfully pairing the likes of Brad Pitt and Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo and Meryl Streep and tossing in candid party shots. The words come from the likes of D.H. Lawrence, Clare Boothe Luce, Dominick Dunne and Christopher Hitchens.