Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Subtle charm that makes young farmers forget the farm

Central Park looking west toward the Time Warner complex, Trump Tower, 15 Central Park West and the Century. 10:50 AM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011. It was a beautiful day in New York. Sunny, perfect temperature, and then by nightfall a pristine, pearly crescent moon in the high southeastern sky.
One block south of the museum, on the park side of the avenue is this statue of J. Marion Sims, MD (1813 - 1883). Dr. Sims was known as the Father of Gynecology. He was the first doctor in New York to have a public statue commemorating him. He was not without controversy despite his reputation for having improved medical treatments.
At noontime yesterday, over at the Museum of the City of New York they held their “Spring Lecture Symposium” with Gloria Vanderbilt, Wendy Goodman, and Matthew Patrick Smyth. I’d never been to one of these symposiums before but Gloria Vanderbilt was the draw. In fact, seeing her name on the invitation, I knew what it would be about. Both Goodman and Smyth have had close working relationships with Gloria, as well as friendships.

I first met Gloria a little more than 20 years ago when I was in New York from Los Angeles working on a project. I don’t recall how we connected (who our conduit was) but I interviewed her about the principals in my story. She was helpful and gracious. She also has a writer’s curiosity about people.
Gloria Vanderbilt yesterday during the Spring Luncheon Symposium at the Museum of the City of New York.
By the time we met, she was one of the most famous women in America. She wasn’t just a celebrity, but rather like a princess; an heiress married to variety of interesting men. It was already a legend, affirmed in the late 1970s in Barbara Goldsmith’s biography Little Gloria Happy At Last. Meeting her was in a way like finding out Cinderella was a real person.

She has, as Cole Porter once wrote, “That subtle charm that makes young farmers forget the farm.” She also likes people and likes making friends. A testament to that is that she has friends whom she has known all of her now long life. Some of them were at the Symposium yesterday.

Yesterday’s luncheon event began at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine auditorium across the street from the Museum of the City of New York, which is now undergoing an expansion and renovation. On stage were the three participants: Gloria, Wendy Goodman, Design editor at New York magazine, and Matthew Patrick Smyth. The subject was The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman with a Foreward by Anderson Cooper.
Gloria, Wendy Goodman, and Matthew Smyth looking at images from the book including one of Gloria's studio (left).
The only known photograph of little Gloria with her mother and her father Reginald Vanderbilt who died within a few months of when this picture was taken.
In essence, it’s Gloria’s book, because Gloria emerged long ago as a character of the Zeitgeist, a symbol, a representative, a reflection of somebody/something that defined a time and place in America. Somehow Gloria grasps this. Perhaps it’s because she’s basically an artistic personality. She prospects and mines it. She’s spent her entire life creating, including creating the scenario known as A Life, at different stages.

Yesterday’s presentation was impaired by a very bad
speaker system that muffled a lot of the words on the stage. On a screen behind them, they showed images from Wendy Goodman’s book and Gloria talked about each image. If you don’t know the story of the childhood of Gloria Vanderbilt -- now known as mother of Anderson Cooper -- you are missing out on an incredible tale.
Above: The luncheon place settings.

Left: Comedienne Kathy Griffin with Marti Stevens.

Below: Kathy Griffin, Matthew Patrick Smyth, and Marti Stevens.
Gloria chatting with Peter Pennoyer.
Watching and listening to her yesterday, and thinking of the woman I got to know, and thinking of the woman whose life was the subject of this beautiful book; I realized that now in her later years (she was born in February 1924), her art has changed with her priorities. She’s more creative than ever. She’s written several books. She’s created gallery exhibitions; she’s finding new venues for expressing Gloria Vanderbilt now.

After the “lecture” which lasted an hour (and could have gone on and on as far as the audience was concerned), there was luncheon served on the terrace of the museum. I was seated next to Gloria but she wanted me to sit next to Kathy Griffin, who is in from Los Angeles to be on the David Letterman show (tonight). Gloria’s a big fan of Kathy. It’s mutual. Kathy is also a big fan and friend of Joan Rivers. In fact Joan’s taking her to Windsor Castle next month to meet Prince Charles and Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall.
The booksigning reception for Bill Moyers last night in the library of his friend, writer/producer
Tom Fontana.
Last night, beautiful evening, I went down to the West Village to a book party for Bill Moyers and his Bill Moyers Journal; The Conversation Continues, just published by New Press.

The reception was given by his friend Tom Fontana. Mr. Fontana is a highly successful writer and producer for television. You know his shows even if you don’t know his name: Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street, St. Elsewhere, The Philanthropist, and now he’s working on Borgia for the French channel Canal +.
Bill Moyers holding a copy of his new Bill Moyers Journal; The Conversation Continues. Click to order. Our host Tom Fontana with his guest of honor
Bill Moyers.
I took a picture of part of Mr. Fontana’s private library which I was told was once a real New York Public Library branch. Interesting how the vibe remains. Later I glanced through one group of shelves to see what interested our host. On this group it was a wide array of histories, memoirs, actor’s manuals, many now ancient (books of Edwin Booth’s published mid-19th century).

The walls of the hallways to the library are covered with autographed photographs and letters of famous figures in literature, stage and film. Mr. Fontana is a connoisseur. He is reverent about writers and actors. You are too when you see it.
The library looking north over the buffet table.
You always learn something about a collector when you first view their collection, and in this case the learning is that this man loves his business, worships its world, its talent and its wonder. In return, it has been a blessing.

The place was packed. There was an ample table of food and waiters passing the wine and water (and some people were drinking Bourbon, which smelled very good). I spoke with Bill briefly, and to his wife and producing partner, Judith. The Moyers are very industrious people; they are always learning. And those who follow learn too.

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