Monday, April 23, 2012

The rains came

A luscious pot of flowers on the Upper East Side. 3:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, April 23, 2012.  The rains came lightly on Sunday morning and continued heavily into the night. The first rains in many weeks.
First things first. Last Thursday night at the New York Public Library in the Stephen Schwarzman Building at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, the Municipal Art Society of New York hosted the presentation of the 2012 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal to Joan Ganz Cooney and Peter G. Peterson. Mrs. Cooney, who is married to Mr. Peterson, was one of the visionaries and the chief moving forces behind the creation of Sesame Workshop, the home of “Sesame Street,” and Mr. Peterson, a former CEO (Bell & Howell), Secretary of Commerce under President Nixon; co-founder of the Blackstone Group (with the aforementioned Mr. Schwarzman), author of five books and founder and chair of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation as well as Director of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Museum of Modern Art, the Japan Society and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Alan Feuer.
Prestige. Yesterday’s New York Times carried an article about a man, a social gadfly named Alan Feuer. The article was written by a man of the same name who is a reporter for the Times. Mr. Feuer (pronounced Foy-er) the reporter, asked me if I regarded Mr. Feuer (social gent) a member of  “Society” in New York. That is a Frequently Asked Question at this desk and not always comfortable to answer because times have changed, of course; and what was Society in New York a century ago or two centuries ago, differs almost beyond recognition from today’s social groups which often differ greatly from each other as well, despite all having a certain prominence among its members.

It was probably the Liberation Movements of the 1960s that completed the transition of the “old” society to the “new.” That also included the Presidency of John F. Kennedy as well as the enormous influence of his wife Jacqueline on the public consciousness of power and social prominence.

I told Mr. Feuer of the Times that Mr. Feuer, the social, whom I was not aware of, was an habitué of social events that were very social but not exactly Society today. It’s hairsplitting but it retains focus on the “center” of what could still be called “Society” – far different from the world of the Astors and the Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age, as well as the WASPdom of the Boston-Philadelphia social axis of that age, not to mention the earlier Knickerbockers who regarded themselves as Way Above the hoi-polloi and the “arrivistes” of the Gilded Age.
Joan Ganz Cooney accepting her award. Her husband Pete Peterson accepting his.
The Municipal Art Society is a reflection of that earlier age, although not so much of people who were Society then, but people – mainly men – who were concerned about the maintenance of the community and its organization and management. It was founded in 1893. Their earliest advocacy work included the passing of the city’s first zoning laws, and contributing to the planning of the subway line, as well as commissioning public art throughout the city.

In other words: the work of the Municipal Art Society for the last 119 years has been to guide to and guard of the heritage of the city. Mrs. Onassis, for example, got involved in 1975 when developers were planning on demolishing Grand Central Terminal, believe it or not, to erect some business tower (believable of course).
The couple as seen on the video presented to the guests Thursday night.
The demolition of the great Penn Station was seen in retrospect as a major mistake, and Mrs. Onassis, in response, joined in on the campaign to avoid that same mistake with Grand Central. Her presence brought tremendous publicity to the MAS’ project, making the world aware of what was going on.

s She is credited in having turned the tide against the proposed project, reviving the public prestige of the Municipal Art Society, especially among the heavy hitters and high mucky-mucks of the city who could make a difference. It also inspired some (which is all it takes) to participate and contribute, and gave it more influence.
Thursday night’s dinner exemplified that influence. President Bill Clinton was Honorary Chair. Henry Kissinger and Caroline Kennedy were Honorary co-chairs. None were present. Dinner co-chairs were Jane and Michael Hoffman and Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols. MAS Chair, Eugenie Birch opened the evening. Among the hundreds attending there were bankers, architects, real estate moguls, philanthropists, media moguls, lawyers, artists, interior designers, architects, financial tycoons, writers, politicians and corporate executives.

Many of these same people attend the important annual events of other important city cultural institutions, hospitals, foundations and other organizations of influence in the community. Generally speaking ,many of the same people make up what could be termed “Society” as it exists in New York today. Prestige, influence, prominence, all of which boils down to M-O-N-E-Y – the grease in the wheel of municipal stability and progress, either in possession of or access to.
A standing ovation for the Petersons.
They were there, by the hundreds for the Petersons. Vin Cipolla, the president of MAS, introduced by Eugenie Birch, opened the evening. He introduced Mayor Bloomberg who stopped off to laud and congratulate his friends the Petersons for their good works. Then the still movie star-lovely Diane Sawyer came to the podium and made the first presentation to Joan Ganz Cooney. Sawyer was assisted by a couple of the famous Muppets who came onstage (with their “helpers”) and brought everyone out of the clouds of city power and back to earth with their signature down-to-earth common sense, and humorous observations of irony in the human comedy.
Then Michael Hoffman introduced and presented Pete Peterson with his medal. Hoffman and his wife Jane are co-authors of “Green: Your Place in the New Energy Revolution.” He is also managing director of Riverstone Holdings LLC, the world’s largest renewable energy fund. Mrs. Hoffman is a policy expert on consumer issues and domestic policy and several years ago ran for Lieutenant Governor on the Democratic ticket.

Both Cooney and Peterson are very familiar if not actual friends to almost everyone attending, and their speeches reflected that familiarity:  they were talking to friends and acquaintances who admire their work and their philanthropy. By then the stage in the Celeste Bartos Forum of the library was filled with Cooney-Peterson friends, associates, Muppets.
Joel Schumacher, Lesley Stahl, Liz Smith, and Diane Sawyer acknowledging ...
The Muppets and their "assistants."
Onstage: Eugenia Birch, Lesley Stahl, Liz Smith, Diane Sawyer, Joel Schumacher, Joan Ganz Cooney, Muppet and friend, Pete Peterson, another Muppet and friend, and another, Michael Hoffman, and Vin Cipolla.
In the crowd: Arlene Dahl and Marc Rosen, Gordon Davis, Anne and David Childs, Serena Boardman and John Theodoracopulos, Sherrie and David Westin, Mort Zuckerman, Jennifer and David Stockman, Steve Schwarzman, Liz Smith, Tony Marx, Kitty Hawks and Larry Lederman, Betsy Gotbaum, Louise Grunwald, Paul Gunther, Janet Ross, Joel Schumacher, Fred Iseman, Alexandra and Philip Howard,  Tony Kiser, Kathryn and Kenneth Chenault, Marie Brenner and Ernie Pomerantz, Liz Smith, Lesley Stahl, Cynthia McFadden, Julie Menin, William Wright,  Lisa and Richard Cashin, Lisa and Julian Nicolini, Paul Beirne, Diane Coffey, Anne Ettinger and Jonathan Reynolds, Helen Tucker, Yeohlee Teng, to name only a few among hundreds, many of whom know each other by two or three degrees of separation at most.

The evening was sponsored by American Express, Lisa Atkin and Tony Kiser, Genie and Bob Birch, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, The Blackstone Real Estate Advisers, Bloomberg, Allison and Tim Coleman, Sharon and Chris Davis, Elizabeth B. Stickler and Mart Gallogy, Tishman Speyer and Janine and J. Tomilson Hill.
The Chrysler Building in all its glory Thursday night, taken just outside the Library at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.
Yesterday afternoon at the Players Club, there was a Memorial Service for Norris Church Mailer who died a year and a half ago after a more than decade battle with cancer. Norris was the widow of Norman Mailer. The memorial was produced by her son John Buffalo Mailer.

Although I knew her during those trying years and saw her not frequently, I felt I knew her well. I was one of many people who felt they knew her well and it still saddens me to think that soft and brilliant light of life has gone out.

She had a warmth and intimacy that was easy to respond to with the same. Her bravery was worn as unassumingly as her beauty – and she was truly beautiful, both inner and outer.

Norris wasted no time with those years and with her friends. She was frank and honest about herself, her background, her relationships, both private and public and always kind, and she was always curious to know and learn from others about their experience in life. Her disappointments and heartbreak were expressed but not dwelled upon – at least not for long.

It was during those final years that she learned that her husband had had a long affair with another woman who went public with it. This smacked her vulnerability doubly but she was undaunted. She finished and published her memoir “A Ticket To the Circus” the last year of her life, and despite her then greatly failing condition, like a trouper she was out publicizing it with book signings and readings.

The program yesterday afternoon included videos, each followed by memories of a friend.
Video One was “Little Miss Little Rock” followed by John Wiley. Video Two was “Barbara Jean becomes Norris Church” (she changed her name when she came to the Big Town), followed by Dotson Rader and Richard Stratton. Video Three: “The Circus Begins – Norris the Stepmother” (Norman already had several children when she entered the household), followed by Barbara Wasserman (Norman’s sister), Danielle Mailer and Michael Mailer (Mailer daughter and son). This was followed by Matthew Mailer (Mailer son) and Saline Sias (his wife) and “A View Through the Prism.” Video Four: “I Thought It’d Be Fun – Norris the Model” followed by Robert Belott. Video Five: “Always an Artist – Norris the Painter” followed by Edie Vonnegut. “The Show Goes On – Norris the Actress and Playwright” followed by Sondra Lee; “Norris and the Art of Shopping” by Sasha Lazard. Video Six: “The Circus is a Hit! Norris Church Mailer the Writer” remembered by Nancy Collins, David Ebershoff  and Margo Howard. Video Seven: “The Golden Years – Life in Provincetown” followed by J. Michael Lennon. Video Eight: “Birth of an Institution – Norris and the Start of the Norman Mailer Center” followed by Larry Schiller. Video Nine: “Inspiration – A Warrior Through It All” followed by Rita Gigante, and Video Ten: "One for the Road."

It was a two hour service, and the music was a song with lyrics written by Norman and music by Angelo Badalamenti, performed by Norris: “You’ll Come Back ( You Always Do).” And so it was.
Norris and Norman Mailer in 1981, a year after their marriage.
PS. Before I forget (and how could I forget?), tonight on Gossip Girl on the CW Network, DPC appears as “himself” (you may already have read about the experience here). It airs at 8 Eastern, 7 Central on the CW Network.

Comments? Contact DPC here.