Cool and sunny mid-April days in New York
Looking up Fifth Avenue towards the Empire State Building. 8:10 PM. Photo: JH.

There were three major benefits last night – at least as far as I knew. The African Rainforest Conservancy held its annual fete and honored Lewis Lapham at Gotham Hall.

Publicolor held its annual Stir, Splatter + Roll honoring the Honorable Ray Kelly, Police Commissioner of the City of New York. And meanwhile, downtown at Industria Superstudios on Washington Street and West 12th, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company held its annual gala “To Bob with Love Merce.” Bob is Robert Rauschenberg, a friend and collaborator of Merce Cunningham – regarded correctly as one of the longest running collaborations in contemporary creative practice

Publicolor was started by an enterprising and imaginative woman named Ruth Shuman. She wanted to achieve several goals at the same time, namely, beautifying the school surroundings of New York kids and, as importantly, motivate the students to improve their environment and therefore experience the experience of making their own lives better. The organization was made official ten years ago. It’s beautifyingly successful.

Last night’s big annual Publicolor event took place at Louis D. Brandeis High School on West 84th Street. There was painting (walls,doors, windowframes, etc.) along with cocktails starting at 6. The kids and the party-goers work together at it.

Emceed by WCBS-TV’s Shon Gables, the event featured performances by Kenny Vance and the Planotones and The Jersey Boys as well as a number of New York creative types pitching in. After the dinner came The Top Coat after party with the live music and an auction too. The dance was mainly for the young professionals to party, dance and mingle.

Down at Industria last night people saw the 25th collaboration of Cunningham and Rauschenberg. Mikhail Baryshnikov, Judith and Alan Fishman, Arne and Milly Glimscher, Agnes Gund, The Honorable William and Wendy Luers, Patsy and Jeff Tarr were the chairs of the evening that ran until ten. Then from 9 pm to midnight, there was the Foot-in-the-Door Young Friends of Merce party at the Merce Cunningham Studios on Bethune Street.

I don’t know either Merce or Bob Rauschenberg although I’ve had the privilege of being in their company publicly a few times, enough to glean an impression of both men, whether it is accurate or not. I know nothing about their private lives – where or how they live, who their friends are, how they socialize. But observing them in public, they both seem like men who are at ease with themselves and with the world around them. I attribute that perception (assuming it is true) to the lives they’ve led as artists. When both men started out, their work was considered very far out. And it was, for those contemporary times. But it was far out at the beginning of something that we are now well into. They led us there. Young people almost two generations following see their work and the art of these times, their times. There is now here.

They’re establishment now, Mr. R and Mr. C, amazingly. The list of the evening’s chairs is very telling. There is tremendous wealth and influence in that list, and all of the individuals are committed to furthering the work to share it with the public.

Last night I went to dinner over at HBO where Peggy Siegal was hosting a small dinner for the makers of a new HBO film, “Elizabeth I” which airs in two parts – on this coming Saturday, the 22nd, and then finally on Monday the 24th. The film stars Helen Mirren as Elizabeth and Jeremy Irons as the Earl of Leicester.

Readers of the NYSD know by now that I am under-informed about a lot of contemporary entertainment – movies and TV. Coincidentally this past Saturday night I did finally see “Gosford Park” and Helen Mirren who, if you’ve seen it, you know turned in a very affecting performance as the housekeeper of the stately home.

I was surprised to see how much younger (and prettier) Ms. Mirren is in real life for in “Gosford Park” (the only thing I’ve seen her in – I think), she looked almost bedraggled by the stress of her aging and her work. She’s also very nice and possesses, I suspect, a wicked wit when she wants to. It’s always fascinating for this bumpkin to meet a woman who as an actress performing can play regal and chilly and yet away from the camera can be earthy and get-down. And a pleasure. Mirren’s a bit like that, from what I could gather (very quickly and almost from afar).

At dinner I sat next to the man who produced the mini-series – a man named Barney Reisz. Actually, on the other side of me was the director Tom Hopper. But I was busy talking the ear off (and asking questions) of Mr. Reisz. Mr. Reisz, who lives in North London and has his own production company called Feasible Films, is from a film family – his father was Karel Reisz the director who made some very famous films of their time (such as: The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Isadora, Morgan, Night Must Fall, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; as well as producing the film that made Richard Harris a star “This Sporting Life”).

He was telling me about making the film which was shot entirely in Vilnius, Lithuania in an old Soviet athletic stadium. There they built the sets including Whitehall Palace where Elizabeth lived. Whitehall was the main residence of the British monarchs until 1698 when it burned to the ground. Reisz said that Tom Hopper (the director) is one of those men who likes to get the details right. As a result, the interiors in this film show you what the Palace at Whitehall really looked like.

The film opens with a scene of a woman in an Elizabethan costume being undressed by servants. You see her from the neck down. She stands with her arms extended. The sleeve is unfastened at the shoulder and then pulled off. Then the bustier/waistcoat is unbuttoned and removed, and then the skirt, and then another skirt, and another, until she is stripped down to a white long slip and you see it is Elizabeth the Queen who then is assisted in lying down on a table where her legs are up and open and she is covered almost entirely with a sheet, outside the vision of everyone but a doctor and his assistance. Immediately this woman, fabled by time and history, is real and will remain so throughout the film.

They are checking to see if the Queen is still in shape to have an heir. It moves from there to Leicester and then on to Essex, the much younger handsome man for whom Elizabeth had a great passion (among many great passions, according to Helen Mirren).

Nigel Williams, Helen Mirren, Hugh Dancy, and Tom Hopper with the moderator

After dinner I went around the table and got a few pictures before everyone left for the forum they were participating in about the film. Among the guests was Georgina, the Duchess of Norfolk, who came over to New York for the premiere. The duchess’ husband’s ancestor Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk played a very important role as a courtier and later a “conspirator” at the Court of Elizabeth I.

The duke was planning to marry Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s ill-fated rival. He was imprisoned in 1569 and executed three years later. At first they took away his properties and titles, although his sons regained his properties. Four generations later, the title was restored also to his great-great-grandson. Today’s duke and duchess live at Arundel, the estate that came to the 4th duke by his marriage to Mary FitzAlan. Today’s duke is the 18th and uses the name Fitzalan-Howard. His duchess, as you can see, is a very pretty, tall and outgoing young woman (also the mother of five children).

Afterwards everyone went to an auditorium where Mirren, Nigel Williams (the screenwriter), Hugh Dancy, the young man who plays Essex and Tom Hopper discussed the film and answered questions for the audience.

Barney Reisz, Nigel Williams, Hugh Dancy, and Tom Hopper
Dixon Boardman and Vickie Ward
Tina Brown, Helen Mirren, and Taylor Hackford
Peggy Siegal and Matthew Doull

Georgina, the duchess of Norfolk and The Hon. W. Henry Smith


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April 18, 2006, Volume VI, Number 65
Photographs by DPC/


© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/