One of 31 life-sized figures installed on rooftops and sidewalks in the Flatiron District by British artist Antony Gormley. 1:30 PM. Photo: JH.
August 12, 2010. More heat. Summer in New York this year is thus.
If it’s Wednesday, it’s Michael’s. At least for the likely suspects and their guests. I had a meeting earlier up on Madison Avenue and as I had some time before lunch I decided to walk over to Fifth Avenue and grab the bus down to 55th Street. The bus stop is right by Central Park.
I took some pictures of the woods just on the other side of the wall. It still amazes me that in the middle of this metropolis you can find yourself peering into a thick wooded area that you might expect to find fifty miles outside the city.
The woods, of Central Park, on the other side of the wall along Fifth Avenue, 12:40 pm.
The bus I took was one of those new buses that run on alternative energy (I should know what and I don’t). The ride down Fifth on this summer’s day was no slower than a cab ride, about 20% of the cost and really interesting to people watch both sides of the street. As it got closer to 57th Street, I started to see more fashionable looking people. A tall willowy beautiful blonde, probably in her late 20s, ambling along in her heels, the wind brushing up her black silk dress and her blonde hair. New York blondes I thought. It was just as we passed the Plaza before Bergdorf’s. I thought of Scott Fitzgerald when I saw her, I was sure he’d seen her too. In another age.
It was not one of the busier (madhouse) Wednesday Michael's lunch but nevertheless a good sampling of the diversity that is so familiar with itself. Publishing, both book and print, television, literary agents, public relations honchos, authors, reporters, network executives. Hollywood people like it because it feels like an “industry” spot, the likes of which you do find in LA.
Such as: Peter Maroney and Patricia Duff, Gerry Byrne and Mike Scotti, Linda Wells of Allure, Peter Brown, David Carey, President of Hearst, Deb Shriver, the Hearst ExecVP of publicity and public relations; Nancy Cardone of Marie Claire,Ed Victor, Stanley Shuman, Steve Rubenstein; Vartan Gregorian and Helene Kaplan; Amy Raskin, Aryeh Bourkoff, Adam Miller, Josh Steiner, Paul Dedorko, literary agent; Lisa Linden, Lloyd Kaplan; Chris Meigher, Catherine Saxton and Benjamin Cohen, Nick Verbitsky; Euan Rellie, Gil Schwartz; Pamela Keogh, the Jackie, Audrey and Marilyn cultural biographer; Jonathan Wald and Katherine Rosman, who recently published If You Knew Suzy about her relationship with her mother and her mother’s fatal illness.
And, my lunch partner, the erstwhile yet still redoubtable cultural/political/financial pundit of the New York Observer's "Midas Watch,"Michael Thomas. Conversations with Michael cover the financials, the literary, the political and the art world, all of which he has long had a vivid and knowledgeable interest.
I didn’t ask him if he were for or against Obama, nor did he tell me (not that I ask anybody, although I’m often told). For a writer with interests such as mine, Michael is one of those natural-born sources of ideas, concepts and haute (sometimes pronounced “hot”) gossip.
Gossip is a word that evokes images of harpies harping. However, gossip runs to the rafters of a place like Michael’s especially since it is a working crowd (garnished with social personages during the non-summer seasons); a crowd that makes its living off the word, or the The Word, or He sez/She sez.
Really good gossip comes from the lips of people who are always learning, where the parade has not passed by. They are often people in professions which give them access to the way the world, or worlds, work. You pick up nuggets of history also. You’re reminded that at the end of the day, it’s the end of the day for all of us, even the egomaniacs roaming the fruited plain.
I was first aware of gossip when I was a kid growing up in a small Massachusetts town and my father got the tabloids everyday. The Daily Mirror had Walter Winchell. Really not even known today, Walter Winchell had THIRTY MILLION readers a day!
Walter Winchell in 1931.
Something like 20% of the American population (30s/40s/50s). He served up gossip smorgasbord, over the backyard fence, the nightclub table, between the sheets, in dark corners. People were afraid of him because of What He Knew. And he didn’t mind poking them if they didn’t watch it with him.
I started reading Winchell when I was 8 or 10. Big eyes for the big town then. Years later when I was first living in New York, I had a brief stint in the publicity department at Loews (known as Loew’s Theatres and Hotels at the time). A few floors down was the MGM Publicity Department. This was especially impressive to me. Celluloid. Technicolor. Once I was asked by a friend who worked for the East Coast head of publicity for MGM if I would do her a favor and hand deliver an envelope to Walter Winchell’s office. Would I? My legendary Hero.
I should add for anyone’s edification that when I was a kid, Walter Winchell also had a weekly Sunday night radio show at nine o’clock, which my father (who was a born and bred Noo Yawker) always listened to. Winchell, who worked in vaudeville as a kid had a Jimmy Cagney tone and delivery. He began every broadcast with: a jet staccato: “Good-evening-Mr.-and-Mrs.-North-and-South-America-and-all-the-ships-at-sea-let’s-go-to-press.”
And then he would drop the bomb(s), the dish. There was nobody like Winchell. Nobody with the readership, the listenership and the inside info that could stop traffic (literally). And in terms of style alone, not to mention political power, there never was anybody like Winchell again.
What's my Line? with Walter Winchell as the mystery guest when television was encroaching a quarter century later.
So going up to his office that afternoon, I was hoping, just hoping to get a glimpse of the legend. I should add by the early 60s, Walter Winchell, despite that enormous decades-long reign, was now on his way to becoming a forgotten man (although he wasn’t there yet).
When I arrived at his office, I was met at the dutch-door by a woman named Rose. I think it was Rose. She was his assistant and I handed her the envelope. She thanked me and turned away. On the other side of the small room, with his back to us, was an old white haired man in a blue shirt (and probably a tie, although I couldn’t see it) and gabardine trousers, shoulders hunched, tired. A very innocuous looking elderly guy. He turned his head just enough to be heard in back of himself, and asked Rose a question about whatever he was attending to. I recognized the voice. It was Winchell.
Years later when I was living in Connecticut I came to know Jack Paar and his wife Miriam whom I met through their daughter Randy. Paar was another very famous (and alleged to be powerful) media person in the late 50s and early 60s. The Tonight Show to this day is Paar’s contribution to the medium. Looking at old kinescopes of this wonder who had everybody across America the next morning talking about the night before on Paar, I was surprised at how mild, almost toothless and sedate a lot of his shows seem. It wasn’t Paar, of course, it was the times. They were a-changing.
Judy Garland on The Jack Paar Program in 1962.
I bring this up because vis-à-vis Walter Winchell, Jack Paar was consequential on this matter, in his times. His talk show dealt in “gossip” on a newsy, entertainment level. There was the gadfly curiosity that provoked it in guests who might share some morsel with his studio audience (and the millions watching at home), after which Paar would provide a sometimes hilarious reaction (he was foremost in his own mind, a comedian).
It happened that when Paar became the popular national figure of late-night television, Winchell had a little “go” with him. Walter Winchell was like that – goad a celebrity, start a feud. Which is basically what he did with this boob-tube newcomer with the rapt audience. Winchell’s goading however, prompted Paar to talk about it on his show. He’d sit in the front of the camera and talk directly into it, as if he were talking only to you. He was very good at expressing his self-doubts and innocent attempts to amuse. The audience loved it because it was both intelligent and childish – very amusing on a grown man if you’re timing is perfect.
He’d spend half the show presenting his case as a decent-hardworking man getting picked on by this gargantuan (implication: monster) Broadway columnist whom the whole world and J. Edgar Hoover bowed to. Walter Winchell. The injustice became one of Paar’s brief publicity arias. It was written about everywhere, in all the major papers and discussed over the breakfast tables across the land. Paar accused Winchell of bending the truth, even ignoring it. In late 1950s America, truth was still a major moral issue.
People started ignoring Winchell. His readership which had been falling anyway, fell more precipitously. It was a very early example of the power of this new medium. Up until then it had been mainly a novelty used for entertainment and sometimes cultural purposes.
Jack Paar retaliating against the (once) omnipotent Walter Winchell changed the playing field, forever. Since Paar’s days, with the arrival of the internet, the field has been changed even more radically.
Jack Paar – who loved conversation and was always curious to learn and to be informed – also loved good gossip. When he was a television star he had access to it and, all those years later, getting to know him, he would sometimes share it -- especially if it had a funny denouement -- over his wife Miriam’s always hearty and delicious dinners or luncheons.
This old Winchell fan was naturally mesmerized by those recollections. Famous people became real. I recall those moments with great pleasure, although I have to say at this time in my life, the information down at Michael’s is often even more fascinating and comprehensive. I think Jack Paar would have thought so too. Mainly I think because the world passes through Michael’s portals on its way to romps and whispers. And serious business, don’t forget.
A group of young women on a field trip being photographed by their guide.
After lunch yesterday, I decided to walk part of the way home to look at the city and look at the crowds. Heat and all, there are a lot of tourists in town and the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue were very busy. Up by the Apple Cube and the Pulitzer Fountain across the avenue, there were scores, maybe hundreds of people both together and alone, sitting, watching, chatting, and checking their cells, of course.
I walked up to 60th Street and crossed over to Madison. Traffic was quiet. I came upon a woman photographing a group of young women who had just come out of the store they were posing in front of. They were carrying notebooks. It looked like they were on a field trip. Right about there I also took a picture of Madison Avenue looking south with very little traffic for several blocks.
Madison Avenue looking south, 3 PM.
The Lion Roars last night. It was a birthday party for the irrepressible New York fashion designer and culture-kicker, Betsey Johnson, who has been successfully delivering her creative energy to her customers for more decades than many New York designers have been present on the planet. Jill Lynne and her camera attended for NYSD. Happy Happy Birthday Betsey.
Betsey's pink Mini Cooper limo.
Betsey's birthday card signed by all.
Betsey addressing her fans.
Betsey toasts her fans ...
... with a bottle of Chambord (a la steamy-dry-ice cocktails).
Betsey with fashion mentor MaryLou Luther.
Maximillion and Alexandra playing amidst Betsey's fashions.
Enter Maximilion and Alexandra's moms, Maureen and Jillian Tashian.
An attentive press and crowd (including Paper Mag).
Dark chocolate-covered strawberry sweets sorrounding a Betsey stiletto.
Caterer and Executive Chef Tim Murphy with his mini sorbet cones.
Waitress wearing BJ, serving ...
Waitess wearing BJ, sampling ...
"Steamy" Dry-ice, Chambord Lemonade and Cupcake Cafe fanciful edible creations.
Betsey's fans wearing her designs ...
Betsey's fans wearing look-alike wigs ..
Fans wearing vintage fashion inspirations ...
Outside the boutique, the party continues ...
Inside, the party was still going strong ...
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