Friday morning at ten o’clock, more than 800 people
congregated at Christie’s in their main auction
room for a memorial service for the late Nan Kempner who died last July
just days before her seventy-fifth birthday.
husband Tommy Kempner opened the service with an extensive
pre-written memory of his life with his fashion famous wife from
the first days of their marriage which lasted more than a half
century. What emerged was a broader, deeper look at a personality
that was very familiar to many people in the room, for Nan had
a lot of friends.
The world, of course, knew how much she loved clothes but Tommy
Kempner told us how much she loved food and how she could not
only clean her plate but help herself to everyone else’s.
This came as a surprise to those who did not know her well but
her for being astonishingly thin.
The Kempners married in the early 1950s and after their honeymoon
moved to London. It was the year of the Coronation of Queen
Elizabeth II and Nan wanted to attend although she had no invitation. So
she suited herself up properly for the occasion and went down to
Westminster Abbey where she made contact with Sir Winston
Churchill, who feeling sympathetic to her plight, escorted her in.
Tommy Kempner’s amusing story of his wife’s trip
to the coronation reminded me of another amusing incident when Prince
Charles married Diana Spencer. Nan
wanted to go to that one too but didn’t have an invitation.
So eventually she got Valentino to take her with him on his invitation. After the story was recounted
in New York, someone told Nan she thought that was a
very pushy thing to do. Nan couldn’t have cared less what her friend
thought. “I wanted to go to the wedding and I did,” she
After Tommy Kempner spoke, he was followed by Jeanne Jackson who
announced that she and Nan had been friends since they were 14
years old growing up in California. She recalled how Nan’s
favorite thing in summertime was water-skiing on Lake Tahoe.
She painted a picture of a very gregarious and sunny personality
everyone noticed when she walked down the street of Lake Tahoe
because she was so good looking and also, even at that young
age, so fashionable.
Mrs. Jackson was followed by Nan’s two sons, Jamie and Tom
Jr. They recalled their mother the hostess and party-giver who
never kept after them to study but insisted they follow the rules
of politesse and particularly grace. They told us how much she
loved her children and one of the sons recalled an incident when
one of the new grandchildren, still a toddler, came to the house
and threw a tantrum, bawling away on the floor. No one could stop
the child until finally Nan threw herself on the floor next to
her grandchild and started bawling just as loudly. The shock of
her histrionics stopped the child instantly.
The Kempner sons were followed by William F. Buckley Jr, a longtime
friend of both Nan and Tommy and also a classmate of Tommy at Yale.
He was followed by Kenny Lane whose talk was the briefest, although
to the point. He said he believed that the day Nan died, a light
went out in New York and the city was darker because of it.
She was a very unusual woman, who literally wore her wit on her
sleeve, and was deeply committed to those things and people she
loved. She lived her life luxuriously and richly. She traveled
the world and met many of the best of them. She loved London, Paris,
Lyford Cay, where they kept a house, and New York. She was graced
with the good life and she lived it to the hilt but with grace.
After the memorial, there was a reception on the ground floor
of Christie’s. Peter Duchin and his orchestra
played and champagne was served. From there many people repaired
to Swifty’s and
occupied the entire front room including Dominick Dunne, Boaz Mazor,
Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera, Marguarite Littman, Betsy Bloomingdale,
Gale Hayman, Georgie Abreu, Kate Gubelmann, Chris and Grace Meigher,
Jeanne and Deke Jackson, Antoinette Guerini-Maraldi, Wendy Vanderbilt
Lehman, Robin Hambro, Serena Balfour, Pat and Bill Buckley, Kenny
Lane, Pauline Pitt, Sophie Commentaris, Lynn Wyatt, Mary McFadden,
Harvey and Gale Glasser.
night before at a dinner that Alex Hitz gave for more than
80 friends of Nan at the Colony Club, Tommy Kempner appeared
with the woman who is said to have been his secretary, he
has announced he plans to marry in the near future. Shortly
before her passing, I was told, Nan told her husband that she
hoped he would marry again.
Thursday, Annette Tapert co-hosted a luncheon with
Lucie Arnaz, honoring Eduardo Machado, the
Cuban born playwright who runs Intar
Theatre, a 40-year-old Off-Broadway group committed to producing
new plays in English by Latino playwrights living in the United
States – both immigrant and American-born.
Tapert and Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos
There were about forty guests in the Tapert-Allen dining room high
above Fifth Avenue in the 70s. Lucie Arnaz spoke about Machado’s
talent and his objectives. The daughter of a Cuban (the famous
Desi), she said she never understood her father’s
passion for his heritage until she was exposed to Machado’s
work. His play, presented by Intar, “Kissing Fidel” directed
by Michael John Garces, previews September 6th
at the Kirk Theater on Theatre Row. (for tickets, Call Ticket Central
or visit www.intartheatre.org).