Monday, February 16, 2015

Washington Social Diary

Andy Warhol and Ina Ginsburg at the Factory, about 1984.
INA GINSBURG: 1916-2014
by Carol Joynt

What do you say about a person who in her lifetime put considerable enthusiasm and support behind three major arts institutions, helped them to happen and flourish, set her own high standard of style in dress and manner, did not suffer fools, who fled Hitler, was Andy Warhol’s friend, confidante and editor, a sensational hostess, was a fierce competitor on the tennis courts and who, late in life, kept up to date and learned to love Uber? Since the question is about Ina Ginsburg, an opera buff who I hope will forgive a line from country music, the answer is simple: They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Certainly not in Washington, where she lived much of her life, raised her family, and died at home in November at the age of 98.

Ginsburg’s children – Mark, Susan and Jonathan – brought together family and friends last week for a “Celebration” of her life, in the Terrace Theatre of the Kennedy Center. It was a packed house of faces familiar to each other. During the hour or so program I wondered if some of them had the same thought that was on my mind. If Ina represented social life in Washington, and the best of it, as I think she did, who is following in her footsteps? Can Washington society mint larger than life characters like that again? Who are they? Where are they hiding?
L. to r.: Ina Ginsburg, a young Vienna-via-Paris fashion plate; An undated photo of Ina Ginsburg standing before the portrait of her by Andy Warhol; Ina Ginsburg, Washington grand dame.
It’s a question that’s been relevant with each passing of someone who fed unique, organic Washington social life – social rock stars such as Kay Graham, Evangeline Bruce, Susan Mary Alsop, Lorraine Cooper. And Ina. With them gone, who follows? Gross lobbying efforts – on behalf of country or corporation - that masquerade as social life? Let’s not. The biggest party of the year in Washington is in a rented embassy, hosted by two out of town media companies, with a guest list bolstered by a swarm of slightly bewildered celebrity imports who talk to each other while the Washingtonians stand against the walls and gape. It’s fun, but it’s not about us.

Ina Ginsburg was the real deal for social Washington, but with some extra spice. She partied with world leaders as easily as she partied with party boys at Studio 54, and she had a closet, and it wasn’t stocked by a personal shopper. She had an all-access pass to a world of caviar and Dom Perignon but was real enough to serve the children grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies.
With Henry Kissinger, when they were both on the rise in Washington. 
A dinner for Vice President Hubert Humphrey, on her left.
Ina, on his right, listens to Ben Bradlee as Henry Kissinger looks on. 
Ina holding court at the French Ambassador's residence, early 1960s, with the Ambassador's wife, Nicole Alphand, standing to her left. 
Nicole Alphand, Walter Lippmann, and Ina Ginsburg at the French Embassy.
“All of us are somehow connected to her remarkable life,” Mark Ginsburg said from the stage as he welcomed a sampling of the capital’s government, political and social movers and shakers, including Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. “It’s so fitting that we’re gathered here in the Kennedy Center. Strands of my mother’s impossibly long life intersected here – the opera, the symphony and the American Film Institute were among the larger pearls, as well as the Kennedy Center building itself.”

Mark told his mother’s friends that when she arrived in Washington in 1950 “she buried her past,” which included a childhood in Vienna, fleeing to Paris, finding passage on a cargo ship that was turned away from one port and then another until its mostly Jewish passengers came ashore in New York. She was naturally given to having a look and was, as Mark noted, “exotic to many,” yet determined to find a niche in this new world and to make a life for herself that centered on her passions.
At last year's Opera Ball at the Japanese Ambassador's residence.
Marriage brought her to Washington, where her husband, lawyer David Ginsburg, was an influential player in FDR’s New Deal. Entertaining was a pleasure for Ina, and her dinner parties got attention at the highest levels of official and private society, and regular write-ups in the New York social columns, such as Women’s Wear Daily. But she had the verve to do much more.

“Almost immediately after the third child was born she threw herself into the arms of a childhood love, opera,” Mark said. She got involved in the grass roots of the Washington National Opera “and put all her energy behind it for the next 59 years.” But she made room, too, for The National Symphony Orchestra and fundraising for the creation of the Kennedy Center. “In 1972 Ina took on a role with the American Film Institute that lasted for the next 37 years,” Mark said. She sat on boards, came up with programs, organized special screenings. In fact, to listen to him eulogize his mother it was clear that almost every where she looked in Washington, when she saw the opportunity she planted an arts program, including even at the Federal Reserve.
With Laura Bush.
On a White House receiving line with President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
It was in the 1970s and 80s, after divorce, and making a name for herself as an arts visionary, powerful fundraiser and successful hostess that she pivoted into the orbit of Andy Warhol and his Factory entourage and a new role as a journalist. Whether she found him, or he found her, doesn’t really matter at this point. They found each other and it was a match.

Andy Warhol is so iconic now that it seems logical that a Washington hostess would bring him to town and seat him at her table, introduce him around among White House officials, and that no one would bat an eye. But back then they did, of course. He was avant garde, as exotic to a Washington dinner party then as, say, Kanye West would be today. It was a bold move to become his Washington mentor and, eventually, the Washington editor of his entirely innovative and not at all buttoned down Interview magazine. She nabbed everyone who was interesting, or fresh, or had a story to tell, including a newsmaking conversation with former defense secretary Robert McNamara about the Vietnam War.
Ina got around: with Harrison Ford at a party at Morton's in L.A.
Her home off Foxhall Road holds a legacy of the Warhol friendship, as the walls are hung with many of his screen prints and other works, some of them signed on the back, “To Ina, love, Andy Warhol.” A focal point in the library is a Warhol portrait of Ina. (Shown in this Washingtonian magazine spread.)

“If one looks at all her activity over sixty years on a timeline or continuum its apparent Ina was doing most of it simultaneously, which is mind-boggling, and a lot of this was before home computers,” Mark said. “But there was always time for family, skiing, tennis, yoga, and of course lots and lots of glorious entertaining right up to the end.” He pointed out how the city itself changed in the span of his mother’s life. “It has radically transformed,” he said.
Ina with her son, Mark Ginsburg. 
Mark credited his mother with helping that transformation, and as I listened I thought of the progress that’s been made in culture, growth, nightlife, livability. We need more dinner parties such as hers, though, that mixed political power at the same table with an artist who painted with piss. It would be sad to let social life here fully merge into the fast lane of work; to virtually punch a clock when we arrive and depart the party.

Mark captured his mother well. As did a film about her life and times, and other loving speakers, too, including Ina’s tennis coach, Kathy Kemper (“While I was her tennis coach on the court, she quickly became my coach in all things off the court”); and lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, former chairman of the Washington National Opera (“Opera was in her DNA, being from Vienna”); Bob Gazzale, president and CEO of the American Film Institute (“It’s one thing to help shine a proper light, and it’s quite another thing to invent electricity”); author and journalist Jerrold Schecter (“Andy needed Ina because she brought him a kind of respectability”); and Susan Ginsburg (“Her immediate family was the fixed frame of her being”) and Jonathan Ginsburg (“My mother, Mutti to me, had a wonderful sense of humor  and a wondrous temper”). Jonathan also invoked his mother’s Marlene Deitrich accent, bringing her to life for a flash.  There were musical interludes, including a string quartet playing Hadyn and performances by opera singers Leah Crocetto and Alan Held.
Ina Ginsburg with Austrian Ambassador Christian Prosi (Photo by Neshan H. Naltchayan).
Mark Ginsburg, Belgian Ambassador Jan Matthysen, Agnes Matthysen, and Ina Ginsburg in 2013.
Yasmin and Reza Pahlavi with Ina Ginsburg.
Kemper, in talking about tennis, invited us into the world of power Ina took for granted. She was always ready for a game, even on a moment’s notice. “Ina never asked who else was playing,” Kemper said, “Democrat. Republican. Young or old. President George Bush, Justice Scalia, Chairman Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, Sen. (Thad) Cochran, Kay Graham, Judge William Webster, or my daughters. She was happy to be charging around the tennis court.”

I can’t claim a friendship. I would see her at parties. She was always friendly, gracious. She stood out, dressed impeccably, more genuinely stylish than is typical for Washington, favoring gorgeous gowns. Some of her favorites included Oscar de la Renta and Dior and, back in the day, Courrèges, whose look she embodied. Mark said her interest in fashion “bloomed” while growing up in Vienna.
At a White House reception, Kathy Kemper, Ina Ginsburg, David Edelman and Singapore Ambassador Mirpuri.
At the Supreme Court in October of last year, with Claudia Fritsche, Mark Ginsburg, Dean Reed, Ritva Koukku-Ronde, and Michael Olding.
Ted Olson, Kathy Kemper, Justice Ginsburg, and Ina Ginsburg.
Being well dressed and running an elegant home, inviting in friends, making the evening memorable, circulating comfortably among the influential, was the way she lived her life, but it was the arts that drove and inspired her. A one woman symphony. She wanted “all human beings to have exposure and access to the arts,” Mark says in the film tribute. “It’s part of education, it’s part of growing up, part of learning. It was a right.”

As the “Celebration” concluded and the guests moved from the theater to a wine and Champagne reception, one after another said: “Ina would have loved this.”
The "Celebration" of the life of Ina Ginsburg at the Kennedy Center, February 9, 2015.
Susan Ginsburg, Jonathan Ginsburg, and Mark Ginsburg pay tribute to their mother.
Here are only some of the friends who were there: Guy D’Amecourt, Thomas Dargon, Diane Ackerman, Evelyn DiBona, Charles DiBona, Amanda Downes, Elizabeth Drew, David Edelman, Adrienne Arsht, Farhud Batmanglich, John Beardsley, Steve Clemons, Travis Brown, Arturo Brillembourg, Hilda Brillembourg, Kaitlin Booher, Laura Bisogniero, Ann Geracinos, Didi Cutler, Walter Cutler, Michael Culhane, Caroline Croft, Philip Pillsbury, Nina Pillsbury, Mike Pillsbury, Susan Pillsbury, Frank Murkowski, Jacqueline Mars, John Mason, Joann Mason, Robert Imoff, Finlay Lewis, Willee Lewis, Dorothy Kosinski, Kitty Kelly, Ed Henry, Monica Greenberg, John Mintz, Robert Madden, Aviva Kempner.

Marc Leland, Diana Prince, Nora Pouillon, Yasmin Omer, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Cheryl Numark, Susan Blumenthal, Scott Willis, Isabel Ernst, Sen. Richard Shelby, Barbara Vogel, Leo Vogel, Susan Watters, Diane Rehm, Kyle Samperton, Veronique Rodman, Roxanne Roberts, Kandy Stroud, Stuart Sundlan, Catherine Wyler, John Rooney, Richard Rymland, Trish Vradenburg, Pie Friendly, Farhad Sunil, Quinton Holton, Alice Birney, Amb. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Anchyi Wei, Frank Wisner, William Webster, Lucky Roosevelt, James Rowe, Michael Clements, Arturo Sarukhan, Amb. Kenichiro and Nobuko Sasae, Betty Sams, Ari Roth, Michael Lieberman, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Johannes Laemmle, David Ensor, Anita Ensor, James Feldman, Monica Dugot.
The back of an Andy Warhol in the Ina Ginsburg collection of the artist's work.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt