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Bette Midler's picnic for NYC raises the roof -- and $1 million dollars!

"I ALWAYS knew that 'Sesame Street' would be a success -- I just didn't know it was going to be this much of a success!" said co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney at the annual Sesame Workshop blast last week.

It happened at Cipriani 42nd Street, which I happen to think is the best money-raising venue in Manhattan.

I didn't think my longtime friend Joan (Mrs. Pete Peterson in her not-so-private life) had anymore worlds left to conquer. After all, President Bill Clinton gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom back in 1995. (And that is the highest civilian honor.)

But Joan was looking like a movie star as she thanked her famous husband for underwriting the evening. She is having one triumph after another. All richly deserved.

The event had filmed greetings from Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton to egg Joan on to further glory, she had her late partner Jim Henson's daughter, Cheryl, singing her praises, she had the blonde and gorgeous Diane Sawyer introducing it all, she had "Sesame's" Melvin Ming and Vincent Mai saying that her honoring had brought in more than $3 million to keep teaching children the world over how to read, write, count and be kind, she had fabulous films of many of those children whose lives she has changed for the better, she had the Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundation naming their huge money gifts the "Joan Ganz Cooney Prize," she had an audience of high and low rollers, crowded on top of one another in a real party atmosphere, she had the genial and super-talented Michael Buble singing to her and all the Muppets you could count, plus Big Bird, and, piece de resistance, she had her smart, good-looking grandchild, Chloe Kimball, introducing her proudly and saying how much she loved Joan.

I want to congratulate Sherrie Westin, who puts this fundraiser together every year. She outdid herself this time, masterminding another special tribute for Joan and that's saying something. In the past, this grand honor has been accepted by the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu and others equally grand.

I just can't count all the honors Joan holds so lightly. She is one of the great movers-shakers-motivators, truth-tellers and givers of the world. She takes it all so brightly and smartly. She is down to earth, realistically practical, human, and extravagantly generous with time, money, advice. She also has a great, attractive sense of humor.

Women fighting for equal rights, freedom, fair compensation and success are enhanced by someone like Joan, who is handsome in what she terms "old age." She makes this seem silly by her approach to life and by being so good-looking. She cares for so many who are less deserving and less dedicated. She created, with a lot of help, she says, a pathway for children's education via TV -- and that's now only the beginning, what with the Internet and social media's advances.

I can't believe I am so lucky to have made such a friend and I want to give her the full due of how she has enabled me to do the little I can. If you love and are concerned about the future of the children of the world, take a whack at saying every day, as I have learned, "What would Joan Ganz Cooney do?"

BETTE MIDLER pulled off yet another coup for the New York Restoration Project to make New York City more beautiful than ever. In this green event, staged in a tent with Grant's Tomb as a backdrop, Bette had help from the likes of Amy Poehler, Cynthia Nixon, Bernadette Peters, Dr. Oz, designer Isaac Mizrahi, the splendid Marlo Thomas, NBC's new correspondent Cynthia McFadden, comedienne Judy Gold, musician John Pizzarelli, honoree Ron Finley, fashion's Tim Gunn, Sean Driscoll of Glorious Foods, and too many others to count.

Most of us made little jokes about the backdrop of the mammoth tomb of Ulysses S. Grant and Mrs. Grant. It is, however, the largest mausoleum in North America and most impressive. More than impressive on a local level was having the new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, and his first lady there. And Bette herself, resplendent in black with diamonds (perfect for a picnic) putting together an auction that urged the already tapped-out audience to respond to the tune of $250,000, raising the total in all for this "picnic" alone, to more than $1 million!

There is no one like Bette Midler! And there is nothing like New York City elsewhere in the world, and the fact that an entertainer of Bette's magnificent stripe is striving to make it all look better, is incredible. Oh yes, I received a silver-plated trowel with which I am to go to work immediately making things greener around me.

A FEW weeks ago, I told you that Disney's "Maleficent" starring Angelina Jolie was being compared by "insiders" to that studio's mammoth disappointment "John Carter."

Well, Miss Jolie had the last laugh. "Maleficent" took in almost $200 million over the weekend, despite so-so reviews. Some critics didn't care for Disney's "reboot" of its own "Sleeping Beauty," especially the backstory given to Jolie's "Mistress of All Evil." But by all accounts, audiences, even though they might have gone in expecting two solid hours of Angelina being Really Bad -- I mean, look at the posters -- came out very pleased by this Maleficent for the 21st century.

A friend of mine who saw it told me: "I'll always love the animated Maleficent, but this is so right for right now. And let me tell you, even with her CGI cheekbones and antlers, Angelina Jolie comes through as a real person with real issues in a fairytale world. And man, is she a star! You cannot look away from her."

Well, I have not been able to look away from Angelina in her "Maleficent" interviews. She has been the soul of rectitude and civilized, smart discourse. No complaining, no gaffes. Hard to believe this intelligent, quietly humorous creature is the wild woman of the past with the vial of blood around her neck, or even the "home wrecker" of the Brad and Jen split.

Maybe she was always this way, but never had the opportunity, or the right partner, to show us?

(E-mail Liz Smith at


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