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GIVE ME PARK AVENUE

New tycoons usually are welcomed to the fold by a boring, big business-type kickoff. But the genial and unassuming fresh head of NBC News, 43-year-old Neal Shapiro, got his baptism last week at an exclusive, private Park Avenue bash with VIPs galore. The hosts were Talk editor-at-large Holly Peterson and her businessman hubby, Rick Kimball, and CBS News' No. 2 Betsy West and her filmmaker mister, Oren Jacoby.

Media and publishing stars dominated - Diane Sawyer, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, Peter Jennings, Cynthia McFadden, Brian Williams, Ann Curry, Steve Kroft, Jeff Greenfield, Vicky Gordon, Newsweek's Mark Whitaker, writer Marie Brenner, PBS' Joan Ganz Cooney, publisher Mort Zuckerman, book agents Joni Evans, Michael Carlisle and Esther Newburg, ABC producer Victor Neufeld, documentarian Tom Lennon, Neal's boss, Andy Lack, and Neal's beautiful wife, ABC's JuJu Chang. (The couple has a brand-new baby boy named Jared.)

The real news emerging from this bash came from Simon & Schuster's David Rosenthal, who acknowledged that TV presidential historian Michael Beschloss' coming book on LBJ is firmly embargoed until October. "Reaching for Glory: The Secret Johnson White House Tapes" will reveal compelling stories about the mistresses of the president who invented "The Great Society." Rosenthal said the time span is from the Vietnam War's beginning through the end of 1965, and will include some of what the publisher called "LBJ's nasty machinations."

Riding down in the elevator, Holly Peterson's brother, David Peterson of Solomon Brothers, casually dropped it that he and Hollywood producer Wendy Finerman finally eloped last week. They had planned a big wedding months ago, but even though invites went out, it was called off at the last moment. "We have five kids between us, so there were complications," says David. This time, Wendy, the woman who engineered the movie "Forrest Gump" from its birth to an Oscar, and young Peterson dialed for a justice of the peace, who did the deed in Wendy's Bel Air back yard.

So now, the former Mrs. Mark Canton is Mrs. David Peterson. At last! I guess the present I sent for the original wedding will now come in handy - two Murano martini glasses!

Oh, yes. The "no-show" at this party was GE's Jack Welch. Guess the big man is pretty busy with his big money book, which I'm told, is a bit behind schedule. He got a $7.1-million advance, and it's due in stores in September. But who's counting?

Time honors America's best: Time magazine did a "Time 100" series where I contributed "The Century's Five Greatest Romances." That amazing effort at the end of 1999 has been called the most successful magazine project in publishing history.

Now Time hopes to outdo itself. On July 2, the mag's list of "America's Best" will profile people who excel at what they do in five issues. "It's about excellence," says editor Steve Koepp.

So who will Time name as "America's Best"? We don't know yet, but here are a few of the famous who'll be writing about some categories - Dennis Hopper on best actor, Dick Cavett on best talk show host, Mel Brooks on best maker of musicals, James Earl Jones on best playwright, Emmylou Harris on best songwriter, Joe Pistone on best TV producer, Stanley Crouch on best singer, Chuck D on best rapper, Reynolds Price on best photographer, Bill Irwin on best clown and Greil Marcus on best band.

And CNN will do a number of companion shows on Time's choices.

Hey, why didn't they ask me to write about the best gossip columnist? Hands down, I'd say it was Walter Winchell.

The "House" that McCormack built: There's buzz on the West Coast about "House," the theatrical brainchild of rookie playwright and longtime St. Martin's publishing head Tom McCormack.

Advice-givers always advise one to "write what you know," and this McCormack did. The play, currently in Burbank at Garry Marshall's Falcon Theater, stars Harry Hamlin in the lead. His character is obviously based on the now retired publisher-turned-playwright's life.

This is a rollicking comedy about the turbulent world of New York publishing. McCormack does know it. He put out such winners as "The Silence of the Lambs" and "All Creatures Great and Small."

Something you don't see every day: You expect something different from "The Sopranos' " sexy psychotherapist, played by Lorraine Bracco. I mean a woman who advises Tony Soprano wouldn't do anything ordinary. And yesterday she didn't.

Lorraine showed her support for the Dress for Success charity, which provides business attire for underprivileged women entering the workforce. This time, Lorraine handed over a $20,000 check from Playtex. (The underprivileged need undergarments, too!)

Maybe next Lorraine will ferret out a donation from the Bada Bing strip club.

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