17, 2001 - Judy
Green died last Friday morning about 3 a.m. in her Park
Avenue apartment where she lived and entertained at countless
dinners, parties and receptions for the past twenty years.
She had a ten-month battle with pancreatic and liver
cancer. It is not clear to me when she learned the finality
of her affliction but I know that for several months
up until very recently, possibly even a few hours or
even a few minutes before her death, she thought she'd
triumph and defeat the disease. I know that from things
I've heard from the very few who'd been in contact with
her and because I knew her. She was a fighter. To the
bitter end. She was a competitive woman by nature, deeply
competitive, and life was in many ways a race, a race
to stay in. Death was a losing. An admission of losing.
met her only eight years ago when I came back to New York
from living in Los Angeles. I'd been writing social-historical
pieces for Quest. One day at a luncheon of some
mutual friends, Dominick Dunne told me that Judy
Green wanted to meet me and wondered if she might call
me. The whole idea of someone wanting to meet me and asking
if they could call was entirely flattering.
heard of her, although only in passing. In the 60s and
70s, Judy and Bill Green had a big country estate
in Mount Kisco where they often entertained and were part
of a then dazzling set that included Frank and Barbara
Sinatra, Ann and Morton Downey, Bennett and Phyllis
Cerf, Rosalind Russell and Freddie Brisson, Claudette
Colbert, Pamela and Leland Hayward, among others.
I knew this only from the pages of W, and from the
columns of Liz Smith and Suzy. I knew also
that she'd written a couple of novels that created quite
a stir amongst the same social set. From the outside looking
in, it appeared to be a very glamorous life among the rich,
the glitterati and the literati.
a few days after Dominick had told me about Judy, I went
to a luncheon given by Heather Cohane, who then
owned Quest, at a now defunct restaurant on East
80th Street. Judy Green was among the guests. I introduced
myself. She quite curious to see this man who'd she'd been
reading but never seen. For some reason she imagined me
to be quite different in appearance and age. Again, all
very flattering to me.
with writer Anthony-Haden Guest at one of her
her invitation, I called her a couple days later and we
made a date to meet for drinks one late afternoon at her
apartment on Park and 62nd. I'd actually never had the
experience of someone wanting to meet me because they'd
liked what I'd written. Although, of course, I had experienced
the converse. So it was a very intriguing circumstance,
especially since I had no idea what her personality was
like and what our conversation would be like.
day before our meeting I happened to mention Gerald
Clarke, the Capote and Judy Garland biographer,
that I was going to meet Judy Green. He said: "oh
you'll have fun. She loves to give parties and she'll invite
you to her parties." In New York, the idea of going
to parties (up until these past few days in all our lives),
the possibility of meeting new and interesting people is,
for many of us, part of what city life is all about.
Green apartment, decorated by her great friend Ann Downey,
was large, plush and glamorously ornamented, and warm,
with a large wood-paneled living room, a boldly rich red "library" (with
a red Rothko over the sofa, a Warhol of Judy over the bar
commode, and a Dufy on the opposite wall). It was a real
New York apartment in a way that can only exist in New
York. The kind where you'd imagine the rich and the famous
pass through. And they had. The tables on either side of
the sofa were crowded with silver-framed photographs of
the glamorous and rich and famous friends. Men, women and
children. Dressed for summer, dressed for grand evenings;
on yachts, by the sea, under palm trees. Sinatra relaxing
poolside with his wife. Princess Grace with Judy's
late husband Bill Green; Truman Capote in
his Studio 54 garb, the society columnist Suzy,
looking very sportif, under a cabana, adjusting
an earring, looking very much like a movie star, Andy
Warhol waving, Rosalind Russell laughing, Irving
Lazar beaming. The photographs of a golden life, a
life of leisure. At least on first sight.
and I sat and talked that afternoon for about three hours.
We talked about the people we knew in common. We talked
about books, authors we liked, books we hadn't read. She
was full of information, details about New Yorkers, Hollywood
people, actors, authors, artists. Her conversation had
an "insider's" quality; she was privy to the
other side, and often the underside, of the lives so many
of the rich and famous who were only familiar to me as "names." The
stuff that gets categorized (initially anyway) as gossip.
To a writer, (or to me anyway), stories, anecdotes for
sake of insight or for sake of titillation about
the rich and the famous are irresistibly compelling. Especially
if the teller is well informed.
and my endless curiosity, combined with her welcoming personality,
created an instant bond between us.
was a small woman, probably no more than five-four. Blonde
at this age, a brunette earlier on. Perpetually tanned
(from frequent trips to Palm Beach in the wintertime and
Europe and the Hamptons in the summer). She often wore
red, or black. She was not a fashion maven, and although
she had the perfunctory fur coats and accessories, and
always looked "turned out," she cared little
about it. She had by then been a widow, young, for fourteen
years. Mother of a daughter Christina (now married
to Lloyd Gerry) and a son Nicholas. She'd
had a sparkling, if not brilliant career as a novelist. Irving
Lazar was her first agent and Bob Gottlieb was
was born and brought up in New York, on Central Park West,
daughter of a wealthy businessman. From an early age she
moved in the social circles of the Our Crowd families,
as well as tycoons of publishing and show business. She
was a very pretty girl. Author/historian Barbara Goldsmith recalled
meeting Judy when she was seventeen, "at a Christmas
ball Mrs. Arthur Lehman gave for her grandchildren
the Buttenweiser, Loeb, Bernhard kids.
She was wearing a lemon yellow dress and she was so beautiful,
with those cat's eyes and cameo face (before the sun, before
Bill Green, before books and articles and people like Swifty)."
was very proud of and duly impressed by the fact that she
was related, on her mother's side, to Dorothy Fields,
the great Broadway lyricist. Judy, too was very facile
with words, and loved to, and often did, whip up a witty
and clever lyric or poem for a friend or an occasion.
she was in her late 20s, she married a businessman named
Bill Green who was almost twice her age and whos had a
previous marriage. Green was, as I said, a very close friend
of Sinatra's, as well as Edgar Bronfman, the Seagrams
heir, with whom he had close business connections. By this
time Judy had already published her first novel and embarked
on her literary-social career. The combination of friends
that the two brought to the marriage provided an energetic,
peripatetic and rich social life, that characterized the
marriage. In his late sixties, Bill Green died suddenly
of congestive heart failure, having been stricken while
they were staying with Claudette Colbert at her house in
Green's death left Judy a rich and independent woman. She
wrote three more books and became a popular hostess on
the New York scene. As bright and well-read as she was,
she had a tireless interest in social life. She loved the
camaraderie. She loved the variety and changeability of
city life. She loved the nightlife. She also loved presiding
over the festivities, kind of Auntie Mame-like in her role.
was not a quiet, behind the scenes kind of hostess. She
loved music although she could never sing on key and
she loved stirring things up to something resembling a
near-frenzy of excitement. The effect, however, was a kind
of near-Hollywood movie version of a New York party, where
the world Wall Street, Broadway, Hollywood, and
publishing get together with a few other types, such as
bookies and very well kept mistresses. Her rooms were full
of a lot of laughter, music, frequent entertainment, gabbing,
gossiping and the noise of people having a good time.
graduate of Vassar, she had many of the qualities associated
with New York girls of her generation. She was worldly
and sophisticated. From Herman Wouk (Marjorie
Morningstar) to Mary McCarthy (The Group),
she moved easily amongst all kinds of New Yorkers, and
with no authority, but with a warmth which with she insinuated
herself into many people's lives.
at Restaurant Daniel
with DPC, and her Yorkshire Terrior, Lulu.
friends were acquired by many through Judy.
loved people, especially creative people, or brilliant
people, or powerful people. She loved theatre people and
movie people. She read their books, saw their shows, their
movies. When you got to know her, you got to know someone
who could be bossy at times, or possessive, or even petulant,
especially if she thought she was missing out on something.
She had an intelligence as "sharp as a knife," as
one friend put it. "And like a sharp knife, she could
cut too." Yet she was magnanimous and generous with
her friends and assets, and quick to share. A friend in
sudden financial straits could call her anytime and a check
for five or ten thousand would be waiting with her doorman
within the hour, no questions asked and no time limit on
the loan. If she thought you needed something, she wouldn't
wait to be asked, but offered instead. One famous authoress
once borrowed several thousand dollars from her, and shortly
thereafter fell out with her. Riffs with Judy could happen.
However, the woman never spoke to her again, and Judy was
never repaid. Her only regret was the sad loss of friendship.
was very energetic. A late night party, even with a lot
of drinking going, and she could do her share, didn't stop
her from being up the following morning by seven or eight
at the very latest. She read everything all the
periodicals, all the newspapers, all the gossip columns,
and all the latest bestsellers. She remembered everything
that passed through her eyes and ears and never forgot.
An inveterate sports fan, she loved betting on the football
games, the big tournaments, the horses, the gaming tables.
Her limit, which she rarely approached, was always ten
thousand. Like many women of her means and energy, she
never turned down an opportunity to travel and saw much
of the world many times.
sportswoman at Joe and Joan Cullman's fishing
camp in Canada, 1998.
was a big personality with lots of laughter and lots of
wit. Not unusually, it could also be a very willful personality,
at times prone to the temptations of envy or self-centered
interests that often seem to come with the territory of
being bright, talented, rich and a woman in what was basically
a man's world. She could have married again after Bill
Green's death, but she preferred the independence. She
preferred being able to make her own decisions financially.
She preferred being able to pick up the check and share
the wealth. Her large apartment was often home away from
home to friends in from Europe or other parts of the country.
November she suddenly fell ill with a mysterious pain that
was too much to bear. All kinds of tests discovered tumors.
Whatever she was told, she chose to tell almost none of
her myriad friends and acquaintances that she was suffering,
and possibly very ill. The single picture of Judy in the
red dress was taken at the last party she gave in her apartment
last December. She'd given two Christmas parties last year:
one for a couple of dozen friends that included dinner
and then another for about two hundred fifty. The big party
especially was vintage Judy. A wide array of New York turned
out (as seen in NYSD 12/00) to meet and greet and see their
hostess. Very few knew anything about what she was facing;
and all her great fears remained covered by her smile and
couple of weeks later she started her treatments. The whole
process was a terrifying one for her although few saw her
experiencing it, as indeed many never knew, until her death,
that she was ill. She chose instead to withdraw from the
world. Phone calls were not returned, invitations were
turned down without explanation.
were confounded and concerned, but to no avail. Stories
went around that she was very ill. The stories angered
her. That, to her, suggested defeat. She was adamant. She
was determined to "beat it." Her condition worsened
over the following months. Then she found a doctor who
gave her a special experimental treatment which had produced
positive results for others. She took it, and by last summer
it looked like she was making almost miraculous progress.
August, she was convinced that she was on the road to recovery.
For the first time in months she began to see certain friends
for lunch or for dinner. Everyone, who knew of her battle,
was amazed at her resilience. She bought a house in Bridgehampton.
Then she went down to her friend Ann Downey's house in
Palm Beach to rest and continue her treatments. She called
me for the first time in months to tell me her good news.
We made plans to see each other when she returned to New
York after Labor Day.
within days, her condition suddenly reversed itself. It
was there in Palm Beach that she collapsed. She was brought
back up to New York a couple of weeks ago, and checked
into a hospital. A few days later she returned to her apartment.
Despite the agony, she remained defiantly steadfast. And
then on Thursday, she ran out of time; she left us.
to an email I'd written to Barbara Goldsmith about Judy,
she wrote back what so many of her friends must be thinking
about her now:
since I received your Email I've been thinking of that
seen fire and I've seen rain.
I've seen sunny days
I thought would never end
... but I always thought that I'd see you
one more time again.