Monday, January 14, 2013

Liz Smith: Back in New York ...

The Captain and the Mate by James J. Tissot.
Back in New York

by Liz Smith
Monday, January 14th, 2013

“IF women ruled the world and we all got massages, there would be no war!” said the TV writer Carrie Snow.

Oh, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounds good.
IT seems I returned to New York after a week in post-Christmas Barbados to find that chaos has taken over everywhere — taxes, gun laws, politics, you name it.

But the day I landed from beautiful sunny Barbados, I picked up Page Six in frozen New York to read all about fantastic lurid carryings-on in St. Barts. Celebrities and VIPs evidently had a high old, wild old time there.

Claudette Colbert at the beach.
It reminded me once again of how divinely serene Barbados can be, lying as it is, almost on the Equator, near South America, with sunshine and good weather as a rule. Someone had remarked that Barbados is the last outpost of British gentility, manners and snobbism. “Here,” the speaker said, “people are still old-fashioned and absolutely nothing is going on. This is a place to be staid, under-stated and you get to go to bed early.”

I was visiting with some delightful friends from London, near the very same beach where I’d often visited the actress Claudette Colbert who had lived there for ages. Her house boasted a cottage, now torn down, where Frank Sinatra once honeymooned with Mia Farrow. It was on the Colbert estate that I saw our hostess refuse to seat her friend, the artist Peter Rogers, at dinner until he changed from a shirt with no collar to one with collar.

The actress who flashed her gams so seductively to stop traffic in the black and white film “It Happened One Night,” also sent designer Arnold Scaasi back to his room to change because his Capri bikini was just too small for a Barbados beach.

I was struck by the Barbadian taxi drivers when asked what they were doing for New Year’s Eve and 100% of them responded they were “going to church; it’s the thing to do in Barbados!” (I wonder if in St. Barts and other Caribbean and Mexican outposts of high living if there were any churches open on New Year’s Eve?)

Churches are ubiquitous in Barbados, mingling with the rising international signs of “progress” — small malls advertising Chanel, Cartier, Mercedes Benz, Ralph Lauren, et al. Not that I made it to church myself.
I just happened to spend New Year’s Eve on the spacious grounds of the old Ronald and Marietta Tree estate, Heron Bay. It is now owned by the British billionaires Lord and Lady Bamford. (He is one of England’s richest industrialists and owns a huge estate in Gloucestershire, England. The Bamfords’ billions come from construction cranes and heavy equipment and they also own the former John Kluge’s yacht, as well as one of the world’s largest helicopters.)

Penelope with her father Ronald Tree.
Marietta Tree in her Heron Bay courtyard.
Current owners of Heron Bay, Lord and Lady Bamford.
I went to this very nice party in a “gang” invited by the rising star of Blackstone finance, John Studzinski. I ran smack into my longtime Literacy Partners friend and helper, PR guy extraordinary Peter Brown, the ubiquitous Nicky Haslam who is still going strong internationally, and a beautiful blonde who I’ll discuss later.

The grounds of Heron Bay are beautifully preserved from the days even before and after the socially adept Trees partied and lived there. (He was the influential Sir Ronald and she was the American-born Marietta Peabody, descendant of governors and liberal activists.

Her mother, Mary, wife of a Massachusetts governor, was proactive in the first '60s Florida sit-in on behalf of civil rights. (This led the Queen of England to greet Marietta once upon a time in Barbados and to bid her goodbye, saying, “And ... congratulations, I do hope your mother gets arrested for her good work!”

Those were the days when Oscar-winning actress Colbert reigned right next door to Heron Bay and hosted friends such as Kitty Carlisle Hart and Pamela Harriman and her many famous friends from Hollywood. Ms. Colbert was in her element when she came out of retirement in Barbados, back to the screen to play Mrs. William Woodward in the Dominck Dunne-inspired, “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.”

I had quite a chat with Lady Bamford at her own party. She is the blonde Carole Gray Whitt and her pet thing is the production of organic foods, which makes her quite popular.

We were sitting in a regular Versailles type garden with Palladian pillars surrounding us, tables laden with exotic food, champagne-circulating waiters and midnight fireworks over the ocean. Plus a lot of old-fashioned dancing to old-fashioned rock’n’roll.
Scenes of Heron Bay from Country Life (above) and VOGUE's 1968 July issue (below).
I HAD just been telling Peter Brown how impressed I was by the annual Christmas card received from Peter’s friends and clients, Madeleine Gurdon and Andrew Lloyd Webber, long wed.

Each year the Lloyd Webbers send another great Victorian painting and these have become collector’s items. In 2012, they sent Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones's “The Depths of the Sea” and it is the greatest yet.
L. to r.: Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; The Depths of the Sea (1886) by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones; Sidonia von Bork by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.
All of a sudden I found myself chatting with a statuesque blonde goddess who I suddenly realized was Madeleine herself. I hadn’t seen her for a spell but she had on spectacular jewelry. After we embraced, I made so bold as to compliment the diamond and black half moon hanging at her neck. She said, “Oh, it’s from Andrew when we first met and he added these for this Christmas.” She indicated more of the same at her wrists. It seems Madeleine was solo. Andrew was held up in London where he still is the king of all he surveys in musical theater.

So then we talked horses because Madeleine is an extraordinary enthusiast and she pointed out Margaret Thatcher’s son in the crowd. Someone else whispered, “He is such a bore and insists on being addressed as ‘Sir’.” I gathered from these “horsy” remarks that the man might be considered the wrong part of the animal.

This was about as raucous as Barbados ever gets!

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