To Be Or Not To Be

That is the question being raised about one of New York’s most popular couples on the social scene, the Earl and Countess of Albemarle, otherwise known to one and all as Sally and Rufus.

Rufus and Sally Albemarle

In the past few weeks acquaintances have begun to notice what friends have known for quite some time – that Sally is not around and Rufus has been attending parties and receptions solo or often in the company of an old family friend Heather Cohane.

The former Sally Tadayon, an English girl herself, it turns out is in England, with their infant son Augustus who was born two years ago and who bears the family title Viscount Bury. They are staying in the English countryside with Rufus’ mother, it has been explained, for reasons of good health for the little viscount – much fresher air than that which is found in the environs of Chelsea in Manhattan where the Albemarles have been living since their marriage a few years ago.

In the early 20th century, one earl of Albemarle had a brother who had a very beautiful wife named Alice. Alice Keppel became the last (and most famous) mistress of King Edward VII.  So great was her position that as the king lay dying, his queen, Alexandra, invited Mrs. Keppel to visit him. After he died, Mrs. Keppel withdrew to self-exile in Florence. Her great-granddaughter Camilla, is now HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, and wife of Charles the Prince of Wales, the great-great-grandson of King Edward VII. Small world, isn’t it?

The 10th earl – Rufus – subject of this discussion, grew up in England and in Italy, the son of a previous Viscount Bury and a Russian mother. He inherited his prestigious title at a very young age, because the previous earl, his grandfather, outlived Rufus’ father. By the time Rufus inherited, there were no lands or small fortunes left, just the wonderful title and a healthy cache of self-reliance. So Rufus came to New York to seek his fortune working as an industrial designer.

Well-connected, of course, and possibly one of the nicest men you could meet anywhere; goodlooking and fortified by the charm of excellent manners (read: courtesy and complete lack of snobbishness and self-importance – a quality many of his self-aggrandizing social peers in this town are grievously lacking), he married the very pretty Sally Tadayon after dating her for a couple of years. They were (and remain as of this writing) one of the really beautiful couples on the social scene, cutting a wide swath on the charity circuit as well as the Hamptons scene where they were favored guests wherever they went.

They were a very happy couple by the time of their son’s birth. Something went not-quite-right with them a while back, as often happens in marriages and relationships, and Sally decided to make a temporary change. Rufus goes to visit monthly but then comes back to New York where he is working on several business projects. To some, he looks quite lost without his beautiful wife at his side, and so it is hoped that they will soon be together again with their beautiful little Viscount Bury.

Lunch at Michael’s brought out the media moguls and the bold-facers in legions yesterday. Men’s Fitness editor Neal Boulton was lunching with country music star Billy Currington, Joe Armstrong was with Dorothy Kalins, executive editor of Newsweek; the Mayor’s favorite, Diana Taylor was with Barbara Walters, and at the table next to them Peter Wolf was with Beverly Sills. The Preppy Handbook author Lisa Bernbach was with humorist/author Joan Jakobson, Lorraine Boyle, Barbara Liberman and Suzanne Maas. At the table next to me, Mr. “Manolo” himself, George Malkemus was hosting several young women executives; and around the room, Pamela Keogh with Deb Shriver; Peter Rogers, Court TV’s Henry Schlieff, Peter Brown, Gil Schwartz, Steve Rubenstein; Judy Price with Ralph Destino, Debbie Bancroft with Bettina Zilkha and George Farias; Richard LeFrak, Elizabeth Spiers, Randy Jones, Lucy Danziger, Fredi Friedman, Paul Wilmot; the bi-monthly club table: Dr. Gerry Imber, Jerry della Femina, Michael Kramer, Joel Siegal (these guys have been lunching together for more than twenty years), Patrick McEnroe, Allyn Magrino.  And at my table, the former (and for some the forever) Alexis Carrington, Joan Collins and her husband, producer/manager Percy Gibson.

DPC with Joan Collins and Percy Gibson

I was having lunch with Joan and Percy to hear about their latest project – the James Kirkwood comedy “Legends.” The play which deals with two stage legends with personal issues of an longtime rivalry who are working together because every actor needs to (or must) work. The late Mr. Kirkwood who also wrote the book for “Chorus Line,” among other hits, was the son of a silent screen star Lila Lee and James Kirkwood, also a silent screen actor (so he knew the world he wrote about). Collins and Linda Evans are going to be appearing together again in “Legends” on stage, beginning in early autumn.

Sounds perfect for the two you-know-who’s, right? Produced by Ben Sprecher (with Percy), they open in Toronto for six weeks in September. After that they will be taking it on the road for twenty-four weeks playing 18 cities including Philadelphia, L.A., Washington, Chicago, Boston, and plan to bring it into New York in May of next year. So, now do you think an actor’s life is easy? And if that’s not enough, before going into “Legends,” the indefatigable La Collins will be taking her one woman show to England in April and May.

So, what do you talk about with this most famous star of stage, screen and television? This lady who has lived a life that could match any drama or comedy she’s ever appeared in? We talked about California – where’s she’s lived and obviously worked from time to time throughout her long and stellar career. We talked about the reality of an actor’s life – how when one role or play or show is finished, there is the search for the next. Despite her famous portrayals of divas and bitches and femme fatales, added to her constant star quality (there probably wasn’t a head in the restaurant that didn’t turn when they realized she was sitting there), she still has that lovely voice with its soft lilting trills, the ready laughter that no doubt amused and fascinated (and conquered more than a few of) the men in her life, and, like so many in her profession, and like her husband, she loves to talk about the biz.

Actors between parts are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, star or no star. And when they have the portfolio, the C.V. of someone like Joan Collins, they are inevitably fascinating just to be in the company of. She looks fabulous, as you can see by the picture.

I was about ten minutes late for lunch and although worried about their waiting for me, I arrived to find her and Percy perfectly relaxed, rapt in conversation – they obviously have a very good time together. For lunch we all started with the gravlox although for a main course I had the ravioli, Percy had a hamburger and the star had a plate of freshly steamed vegetables, although they didn’t have her daily favorite (and mine too): broccoli.

Before the luncheon was over we were visited by many of the restaurant clientele, many of whom were longtime friends of the star. On a personal note, some NYSD readers may remember the story I wrote on these pages a couple of years ago about the Sudden Death of a friend of mine which occurred at my house on Good Friday in California twenty-three years ago. Because of a Barbara Walters’ interview with Joan Collins that I had seen just two weeks before my friend dropped dead on my kitchen floor, my friend was revived and continues to live (and in good health) today. It occurred to me as Barbara Walters passed by our table on her way out that it was the televised meeting of these two dynamic women that saved my friend’s life.

Last night. Rush rush. I went down to Geoffrey Bradfield’s where he was hosting a kick-off cocktail to honor the benefit committee of the East Side House Settlement Gala Preview of the 2006 New York International Auto Show. You could find the Bradfield house on East 61st Street because there were two gorgeous Bentleys parked outside including the long-awaited Bentley Continental GTC which will be up for auction on the opening night of the Auto Show on April 13.

Amy Fine Collins and Alex Hitz are chairing the 2006 benefit committee. They are joined by the Bentley Men’s Committee which includes Andrew Black, Brett Bobo, Todd Coffin, Bruce Colley, James Corl, Christian Gudefin, Harrison LeFrak, Toby McLennan, Chad Ritchie, Brittain Stone, Antony Todd, Richard Wiese.

Phil Yang, Joan Young, Amy Fine Collins, John Crawford, and Candida Romanelli
Montgomery Frazier and Geoffrey Bradfield
Toby McLennan
Amy Fine Collins
Lisa Anastos
Eleanor Seaman and Gillian Miniter
Joelle Boucai and Di Di Petroff
Alison Minton
Mark Gilbertson
Jim Brodsky and Natalie Leeds Leventhal
Todd Coffin and Brett Bobo

From there I dashed up to Swifty’s which was packed, for a dinner with Liz Smith and Vada and Ted Stanley. Mr. and Mrs. Stanley were recently named to the Slate 60 list of the 60 biggest charitable contributors of 2005. Last year this very gracious and unassuming couple gave $54.4 million to a variety of causes including the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, NARSAD, Mental Health Research Assocation, the Treatment Advocacy Center, AmericCares, The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, CARE, the Carter Center, the International Rescue Committee, Trickle Up, as well as other human rights and relief groups, and most specifically to the Stanley Medical Research Institute which focuses on researching treatments for schizophrenia and bipolor disorder.

DPC and Liz Smith with Ted and Vada Stanley

The Stanleys started their foundation in 1985 without a specific mission. Then several years later when their son became mentally ill when he was in college and was eventually diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, they found their main focus.

The Stanleys who have been married for more than 40 years, met when they were young, just out of college and both working in the executive training program for Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati. A few years after that, having gone into independent marketing consulting, Ted Stanley got the idea of “marketing products” and created the Danbury Mint and the Eastern Press. In their thirty-seven years in business, the companies have grown in sales and profits every year for the last thirty-five years, creating and marketing new products every week mainly through advertising mailings. This enormous success has given them the fortune to share, which as you can see, they do generously and annually.

The dinner came about, having met Liz through their contributions to one of Liz’ pet charities – Bette Midler’s Parks Restoration Project. It turned out that we all shared many interests in common, not the least of which was our interest and admiration for Liz, but also books (Eastern Press has series of leatherbounds of more than 100 authors), theatre, history and even, I was flattered to learn, the New York Social Diary. A good evening was had by all; full of pleasant surprises. Only in New York.




February 23, 2006, Volume VI, Number 33
Photographs by DPC/NYSD.com

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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com