Scenes from the Time 100 bash

May 7, 2009, 7:53 AM UTC

I’m just back from a funeral in Pennsylvania — where I traveled late last night after the Time 100 gala at Manhattan’s Time Warner Center. Strange to say, but two wonderful celebrations back to back. The funeral was for my closest childhood friend Meg’s father, Jack Denuel, who died after a three-decade battle with MS. He was a great man who never whined and never said a bad word about anyone. Never.

As for last night’s Time 100 fete, well, it beat the most fabulous Hollywood party you could ever go to. (Wouldn’t you rather be with the word’s most influential people than the most famous?) I got invited because I wrote the piece on Sheila Bair, the chair of the FDIC, for the Time 100 issue. Bair, whom I call “the little guy’s protector-in-chief,” didn’t make the party — she had to be in Chicago — but 52 of those 100 most influential people came.

It was heady from the start. I rode the elevator up to the reception with Boone Pickens. “Hello, Mr. Pickens,” I said, and went on to remind him that he blew out the candles of his birthday cake (80 candles!) last spring in the conference room of Fortune‘s offices. “And remember, I told you not to call me Mr. Pickens. Call me Boone!” Boone had the entire packed elevator thoroughly entertained in 30 seconds. Later, Boone held court at his dinner table — with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, real-esate mogul Mort Zuckerman, Time Warner EVP Pat Fili-Krushel and actress Patricia Clarkson–as he delivered tutorials on renewable energy.

Among the other most influential business folk who came last night: Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, the Twitter guys, and Meredith Whitney, the brand-name Wall Street analyst whose doom-and-gloom outlook starting in 2007 helped bring down Citigroup  and the other big-bank stocks. Whitney, wearing a stunning bright red gown, was accompanied by JBL. That’s John Layfield, her pro-wrestler husband, who is one of the “characters,” as she calls him, on WWE Raw. JBL was in tux and cowboy boots. Super-nice guy, for a villain.

Lauren Zalaznick, who built the quirky Bravo network and now oversees that plus much more at General Electric’s NBC Universal, was the belle of the ball, in a sense. She’s the only Time 100 honoree who got two pages in the magazine — a piece about her by Martha Stewart and also Time‘s last-page essay by the hilarious Joel Stein, who concludes that Zalaznick is most influential of all the honorees because of her contributions to his own life. Zalaznick, perhaps as funny as Stein, told me that she sent a pillow and a hand-written note to Martha to thank her for the tribute. A pillow? Yes, Lauren had the same reaction and a mini-crisis of confidence after she sent it– asking herself, “Who would send a pillow to Martha Stewart?” (Hey Martha, thanks for the shout-out about the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in your piece on Lauren!)

And who did Andy Serwer, Fortune‘s managing editor, sit with? Paul Wolfowitz and Vivienne Tam, the fashion designer. Hey, the more oddball mixing, the better. Andy was Twittering through the evening.

As for the fame factor, there was plenty of that. Who else was there? Michelle Obama (making her first NYC trip as First Lady), Oprah Winfrey (the only person to make the annual Time 100 every year since it launched in 2004), Billie Jean King (who is probably the most down to earth icon I know), Stella McCartney, Kate Hudson, Arianna Huffington, Suze Orman, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg…all the women of The View.

Come to think of it, the most famous influencers in the room last night were women. At a company headed by a woman — Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore — that seems appropriate.