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.
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.
was a beautiful Monday afternoon
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.
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,
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
Sometimes people ask if I like doing what I do.
New York Life Building and the Met Life Building (in green).