It was a beautiful late summer day

I went to lunch with Peter Duchin at Michael’s. The place was packed with a lot of business and publishing people, not to mention the rest of the media.

It was a beautiful Monday afternoon
Joe Armstrong was ensonced at his regular (table 3), as was New York magazine’s socio-political commentator Michael Wolff at his (table 5). Sony Music’s CFO Ron Wiesenthal was lunching with Viacom’s Joan Nicolais (table 15). The late Linda McCartney’s brother, lawyer John Eastman was there. Editor David Hirshey was at his reguar table (table 6), and Columnist/ editor/novelist Jim Brady was at table 12 with New York magazine’s publisher Larry Burstein.

Leslie Dart was lunching with Hollywood’s Oscar winning director/actor, Sidney Pollack who was surprised to learn that his thirty-year-old now classic “The Way We Were” just closed at the Ziegfeld. He didn’t even know it was playing. Peter Duchin reminded him that he’s still “playing that song” for the clamoring crowds. Someone else suggested it’s continuing popularity may be the result of people wishing that things were more like “the way we were,” than the way they are in these troubled times.

Also in the crowd, ICM’s Very Important literary agent Esther Newberg, former Avenue magazine owner Judy Price; writer-publisher James Atlas, John Needham, Fortune magazine president of Multimedia; public relation executive Susan Blond, Tim Arango, media writer for the New York Post; RKO’s Bonnie Timmerman. Lizzie Grubman was there with the Daily News’ new columnist Lloyd Grove. Hotsy-totsy bi-coastal PR dynamo, Lara Shriftman (Harrison & Shriftman) was there, having just returned from L.A. all blonder and bronzed, where she took a house in Malibu for the month of August and had what she said was “the best party” she ever had. And I missed it because I didn’t call her when I was in L.A. Damn.

Peter had the prociutto and melon and the roast chicken with frites and spinach (he skipped the irresistable mound of frites and two virgin bloody bullshots. I had the gazpacho (red and yellow peppers) and the smoked chicken with goat cheese and pepper salad. Iced tea, Fiji water, cappucino for me, nothing for him. The bill: $126. plus tip.

Pamela Keogh an old friend of Peter's, who wrote a book about Jackie Onassis and another one about Chanel, came over to say hello. Afterwards we got onto the subject of Jacqueline Onassis, this being the 9th anniversary of her untimely death at age sixty-four. Peter knew her well. His mother Marjorie Oelrichs, and her mother Janet Lee were girlhood friends and had gone to Spence together.

Peter got to know Jackie when he was in his late teens,
early twenties and she was just a few years older and then married (or soon to be) to Jack Kennedy. When Kennedy was elected President, Jackie said to Peter, “now we’re going to have some fun.” And they did, with Peter playing at the White House. He played for every President since until the present President who, as we know, does not entertain nearly as often as his predecessors.

Aristotle and Jackie
After the death of Kennedy, the friendship between the old friends endured. He and his first wife Cheray (now Cheray Hodges) were often guests of the Onassis yacht, the Christina. Usually Onassis planned the trip and never told his guests where they’d be going. A car would pick them up at their apartment and take them to the airport. They’d be flown First Class to an undisclosed destination on Onassis’ Olympic Airways. One time they landed in Casablanca and this time the host asked his guests where they’d like to go.

A trip along the African coast was the choice, and then up and across to Capri and Naples. In Capri, unbeknownst to anyone, Onassis arranged a dinner in some small restaurant he knew and liked. He saw to it that there was also a piano handy. When the party arrived, Onassis said to his guest: “Okay Peter, play for your supper.” Unlike some professioanal musicians (many actually) who openly loathe being asked to play impromptu, Peter loves it, and so there were many happy and exuberant diners on the isle of Capri that night.

Peter said that contrary to popular stories, the marriage between America’s most famous and most admired woman and the Greek shipping tycoon was a good one. They liked each other. Onassis, he said, was an immensely interesting and charming man. He was ‘a sophist,” and loved nothing more than late late night conversations about great subjects, large and small. He could go until four or five in the morning. With two chefs aboard the Christina, they saw to it that in those wee hours there was more to eat prepared in advance and ready for the taking.

The oft-repeated stories about his being upset with Jackie’s spending habits were false. He was a very very rich man – there was a crew of 56 on his yacht alone – and expected his wife to be the fashionable woman that she was, and was indeed quite proud of it. Jackie, Peter said, “refined” Onassis’ life. Things went awry for the tycoon, however, when his young son Alexander was killed in a plane crash. Onassis never recovered from his grief over that loss. After that, an anger and bitterness set in and followed him to his final days.

Jackie, unlike many women in her “position” was interested mainly in all kinds of people and ideas. She loved information about people and was always thinking as an editor. One of her last visits, shortly before her death, arranged by a mutual friend, was meeting Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker whose PBS series on the Civil War had enthralled her.

I told Peter the story which had been told to me shortly after her death; that one day, not long before she died, she burned many letters that she had saved over the years. Sitting before a blazing fireplace, she gingerly placed the packets neatly tied with ribbons into the fire, disposing for all time certain memories unknown to anyone but her and the letter writers. Peter was surprised, on hearing the story, wondering what her motivation was, knowing how much reverence she had for history, and undoubtedly aware of her own historical significance in the American 20th Century.

The rest of the day was deadlines, for next month’s Quest, so after lunch it was back to the desk and the piles of notes, press releases, etc

At dusk I took the dogs for their walk out on the Promenade. Standing at the foot of East 84 Street where Ten Gracie Square occupies one side of the block and Brearley, the girls’ school, occupies the other, turning to the west there was the light powder blue sky streaked with tall sheets of neon-pink clouds. To the east, the river had taken on the same dusky pearly blue as that evening sky, with an orange full moon slowly rising over Roosevelt Island.

There were scores, maybe hundreds out for a stroll, a run, a dogwalk, a chat or a chill overlooking the river serenely flowing to the south. It was a perfect almost dream-like light for this time of year, with the moon leading the late afternoon into the night. The lights of the apartment houses and business towers to the south and on Roosevelt Island, as well as Queens, had begun to go on.

To the north a mile or two as the crow flies, the Triboro Bridge was festively majestic with its three strands of pearly lights extending across from Manhattan to Queens. To the southeast the twin stacks of the Con Ed plant were lighted in red to warn the low flying aircraft, especially helicopters as well as the jets arriving and departing LaGuardia.

Sometimes people ask if I like doing what I do.
The New York Life Building and the Met Life Building (in green). 10:00 PM.

Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/


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