Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Washington Social Diary

David Frost hosted the hit news satire show That Was The Week That Was, which launched in the UK and became a hit, too, in the US.
By Carol Joynt

It was an amazing 24 hours. The year was 1972. I was barely legal, close to 20, a very young reporter working for Time Magazine in New York. A kid in a candy store, really. Most of the assignments were for the so-called “back of the book,” but some were in politics and news — the McGovern campaign bus, a 2-day upstate New York campus trip with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, an Apollo launch at the Cape.

The pay is forgotten at this point, but it covered rent for a 6th floor studio apartment (with elevator) at 55 Perry Street in the Village. It was an interesting block; present and former residents ranged from Frank Serpico to Norman Mailer. Jim Woods was a neighbor, and a friend.

Eleanor McGovern and George McGovern during "Stars for McGovern" Benefit Fundraiser at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
(Ron Galella, WireImage / June 14, 1972)
A 1972 photograph of Warren Beatty outside McGovern headquarters in Los Angeles.
Paul Newman and Warren Beatty at The "Stars for McGovern" (Ron Galella, WireImage / June 14, 1972)
It was late summer and the Presidential campaign between incumbent Richard Nixon and challenger George McGovern was at full tilt. Warren Beatty was a McGovern campaign insider and fundraiser. He organized a sensational “Stars for McGovern” rally at Madison Square Garden. Christopher Porterfield gave the assignment to me. The hook was that some famous former pairings would reuniting for the occasion, including Simon & Garfunkel, Elaine May and Mike Nichols.

My editor was the esteemed and renowned Henry Grunwald. Henry was a smart, charming man, who had old-world dash, consummate wit and a mastery of his domain. He was a good magazine editor, too. He circulated with ease in the corridors of power but also gave positive reinforcement even to those of us at the bottom of the ladder. He and his wife, Beverly, were a matched pair kind of couple. They hosted fun parties in their apartment, where everyone danced. After a raucous Rolling Stones concert, a note arrived, slipped under my office door. It was from Henry. He liked my story. “But why didn’t you take me with you?”

For the Warren Beatty fundraiser he suggested we go together. “David Frost has a car. He’ll pick us up,” he said. I swallowed my excitement. Invitations such as this were de rigueur at Time. Only recently one of the editors invited me to dinner with this “new fad,” David Bowie.

Did David Frost ever have a car! Before stretch limousines were the norm, Frost had a very long, black Lincoln Continental. As clearly as the car, I recall the clothing. Navy blue pin stripe suits for the men. Frost’s was cut a little tighter and longer at the waist, Grunwald’s a little looser.

I wore a floor length white pleated skirt and a sailor top. It seems so odd now but, for whatever reason, it was not then. The three of us sat in the back seat, side by side by side — Frost on the right, in the limo culture power seat, Henry on the left, me in the middle.

David Frost was a figure of my childhood — That Was The Week That Was was a TV favorite when I was oh-so-young — and hearing his distinctive voice was arresting at first, as it always is when meeting individuals who are familiar through their fame. The men talked over me but I didn’t feel ignored. I was fascinated to listen to them dish with each other, sharing what I consider Class-A gossip.

At the Garden we sat together, too. And when it ended we also traveled together in Frost’s car to the after party Beatty hosted at the Four Seasons Restaurant. Because we were with David Frost, much today like showing up with Anderson Cooper or Charlie Rose, we were hustled in quickly, taken by a back route into the party, without having to endure the crush. Once inside, we went our separate ways. Henry and David had plenty of famous people who wanted face time with them. I wanted to find Beatty, to learn what he thought of the concert, how much money was raised. That would prove elusive, but it was my goal.
David Frost and Millicent Martin, stars of That Was The Week That Was in 1963 Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A measure of my youthful naiveté occurred when Jack Nicholson ambled over. This was the lean, cocky Nicholson of “Five Easy Pieces.” He wasn’t my type, but he was a beguiling and strong personality.

He stood close, face in my face, smiling. “Are you looking for me?” he asked.

I answered, “Actually, no.” Of course, what I should have said was, “Yes, and now I’ve found you. Let’s get out of here.”

He said, “are you sure?” I said, “I’m sure. I’m actually looking for Warren Beatty.” Out of the mouths of babes.
Groucho Marx chatting with Jack Nicholson at a party for George McGovern circa 1972.
An hour in to the party, I noticed Henry and David on the stairs that lead from the Pool Room up to a private dining room. David waved me over. They were leaving, he said, “if you want a ride.” Sure. I was done. Henry demurred. He planned to walk or take a taxi. I don’t recall. David and I got into the back of his Lincoln. “Would you like to come by my place for a drink?” he asked. “I have a place at the Plaza.” I said yes because it was only midnight or soon after, early, and it seemed like a nice idea.

David Frost and Diahann Carroll.
His “place” at the Plaza was a gorgeous corner suite, where the living room had a grand bay window that perched at the corner of 59th and Fifth and looked out over Central Park, the Sherry-Netherland, Grand Army Plaza and Bergdorf’s. There were other rooms, too. He gave me a tour.

In the bedroom I noticed that on the chest of drawers, under the glass that sat over the wood, he had photographs of Diahann Carroll, the beautiful singer and actress who was famously his girlfriend. They may have been engaged at the time. They were personal photographs of her alone and them together and they were sweet. It was a tender touch.

When I turned to walk out of the bedroom he grabbed my hand, pulled me back toward him, and up against him and then tossed me back on the bed and landed on top of me. “I must have you,” he said, planting kisses on my face.

I pushed him off. “This can’t happen. You’re David Frost,” I sputtered, stunned. This was not a turn of events I anticipated or expected. I don’t recall felling threatened. His move didn’t come across as lecherous as much as comedic. It was David-fucking-Frost. What was he doing?

Maybe what I said — “You’re David Frost” — struck a chord. As soon as he landed on me, and I protested, he was back up on his feet, adjusting his shirt and trousers, and apologizing many times over. Did my words do it? We’ll never know. "Maybe I should get home," I said. He offered a lift. “The car is still downstairs.”

We were back in the Lincoln, zooming through the city in the wee hours, talking in the back seat like good, old friends. He wanted to mentor me, help to guide my career. Most likely it was alcohol and the hour doing the talking.

Carol Joynt at her Perry Street apartment.
We pulled up at 55 Perry Street. I moved to get out but he put his hand on my arm and asked if he could come up to see my place. Oh dear, another mack attack? But maybe not. “Sure, come on up. It’s not much. It’s not the Plaza, but it’s home.”

I turned the lock, opened the door slightly to reach the light switch, hoping that would alert all the cockroaches to scamper back to their private quarters. The room was long and narrow with a pocket kitchen and two big windows that looked out over Perry Street and the rooftops as well as a fire escape that served as my balcony.

There was a queen sized mattress on the floor, a writing desk with an old Royal upright typewriter, a chest of drawers and a round table with four chairs. Two small closets. A bathroom. No TV. That was it.

Frost looked around, moving slowly, taking it in, as if it was a space maybe three or four times its size. Being polite. As if it was impressive, which it wasn’t. Or maybe something so small and ordinary was a curiosity to him. It was a contrast with the Plaza.

He wasn’t eager to leave. He stayed until almost dawn. He sat on the floor by my round table, with me in a chair, his head in my lap, talking about his life, his work, giving advice, talking about people. I listened but also considered that morning would come soon, I had to get some sleep.

The work day — the real work day for people like me — started in about 4 hours. But I listened. It’s likely I stroked his hair. He was so deep in thought, in reciting his own words. Eventually, he took a gentle hint, got up, thanked me for the evening, my time, apologized again (“not necessary”) hoped we would meet again and was out the door. Phew.

Warren Beatty and Julie Christy in person ...
... And on camera.
I got to sleep. Got to work, but carrying with me a night’s worth of fatigue. First thing was to call Warren Beatty at the Carlyle to find out how much money was raised. He answered. “Why don’t you just come over? We can talk here at the hotel.” He gave me the room number.

When I got to the his door I was greeted by Beatty’s publicist, John Springer, who invited me into the living room of the suite, where Beatty was sitting on a sofa, bathed in sunlight, talking with a woman who was seated in an adjacent silk upholstered chair, taking notes. “She’s just about to leave,” Springer said. “I’ll be going with her, leave you here to talk with Warren.”

When John and the woman were gone, I sat on the overstuffed sofa in the sunlight and Beatty sat on the floor, near my feet, with his arm up on the coffee table. Very casual, comfortable. But animated and alive. He was on a high. He relived the night before. Everything that happened. The performances. The excitement of who was there. The impact that his fundraising was having on the campaign, and his involvement with the campaign, and his overall love of politics, dismay over Watergate, and enthusiasm for the seemingly hapless George McGovern.

Beatty and I time traveled back to his youth, realized we grew up not far apart in suburban Virginia and even hung out at the same soda shop, the Hot Shoppes in Alexandria, though at different times because he was older. As he talked he got up, sat down, got up, moved around, and even offered me whatever I wanted from room service, but I demurred, taking only a cold bottle of Perrier (which, by the way, was hugely exotic in the U.S. at that time).

There was some rustle and stir from the back bedroom. The door opened and out breezed a mere slip of a woman with the most intriguing tousled blond hair. It was Julie Christie, wrapped in a voile Porthault bathrobe and nothing else. She was friendly, said good morning, took her own bottle of Perrier, sat beside me on the sofa for a few moments — “I’ve heard of Time magazine”— and headed back toward the bedroom. “I’m going to shower.” Of course I I was wide-eyed and drop-jawed. Moments like this did not happen in Washington.

Jack and Goldie.
Then there was a knock at the door. Warren opened it. In came Art Garfunkel, Jack Nicholson and Goldie Hawn. They were apart and together and full of energy and tall talking at once. “Hey, we’re going to get something to eat. Come with us.” Warren said, “well, I am here with Carol from Time magazine. We have to finish talking about last night. But Julie ...”

They took seats around the room and waited, dishing with each other about the night before; who they’d seen, what they heard, and praised their friend Warren for what he’d accomplished. Julie reappeared, in jeans and a flouncy shirt. The hair still irresistible. I wanted her hair. Warren, amazingly, seemed eager for them to leave so he could resume talking to me about Washington and politics. He agreed he would be along as soon as we were done. Damn. I hoped they’d invite me along — what a story I’d have then — but that didn’t happen.

The phone rang. It was for me. It was Watergate figure Jeb Stuart Magruder. How he found me is a mystery. “I’m in New York. I have to see you. [G. Gordon] Liddy’s after me. Can you have dinner?” No. I couldn’t. The magazine was closing. I had to write. “Breakfast tomorrow? 8 a.m. at the Westbury?” “Sure sure,” I said, perplexed.

Warren and I talked a while longer but I had to end it (seriously). I had a story to write. I’ll say this — given his reputation and what I’d heard from other women reporters — he was nothing but a gentleman toward me. Then again, he had Julie Christie in the bedroom. He was not needy. I was a little kid in blue jeans and a work shirt. Do the math. I returned to Time to write my story about the big Madison Square Garden rally for McGovern.

Jeb Stuart Magruder.
The next morning I showed up at the Westbury at 8 a.m. When I asked the desk to ring Jeb in his room, the receptionist said, “Oh, Mr. Magruder checked out already.” “What? We had a breakfast appointment.” The man shrugged. “He had a car pick him up at 5 a.m.”

Months later I asked Jeb what happened. “I told you, Liddy was after me.” Did he mean literally? “Yes. He was in New York. I checked out and headed to Connecticut. I thought he was going to kill me.”

I didn’t see David Frost again for five years, but the occasion was almost as memorable as the first time we met. It was 1977, a late night at Studio 54. I was on the dance floor, next to a big curtain that would drop to cut it in half, allowing for a private party on the other side. When it rose, to the beat of the music, just a few feet from me was Frost. He was in black tie, looking very trim and tailored and, of course, distinctive. Around him was a big party that appeared to be his. In his hands was a large blue tin of Petrossian caviar.

Frost saw me. He smiled. I smiled back. He scooped a shell spoon into the tin and offered it to me, spoon feeding me, and then another, while we kept dancing and his party merged with the overall scene. A waiter came by with a glass of champagne. I took it. Sipped it. Nodded to Frost. He nodded back. He danced back into his crowd and I danced into mine.
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