Monday, May 21, 2007

Foundation for Humanity

Oprah makes her entrance with Elie Wiesel at the Wiesel Foundation for Humanity Awards Dinner last night in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria. Photo: DPC.
When we get to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s annual Spring Gala we know the social season in New York is getting close to completion. The WCS is always mid-May, when the weather is warmer and the skies are still light at cocktail hour. Everyone congregated around the sea lions’ home at the entrance to the Central Park Zoo. It’s a beautiful setting and everything around it – the surrounding skyline, the trees in full foliage, the ladies got up in their colorful long dresses and the men formal as the impeccable penguins in their black tie – serves up a pretty picture of the business of wild conservation. 

I personally don’t like zoos because I hate the idea of the incarceration of the animals. I mentioned this once to Allison Stern who is one of the major forces behind the WCS and I know she shares many of my sentiments about the animals and their freedoms. She pointed out that zoos had now become a refuge for so many of these animals who are facing the very great possibility of extinction because of the way our civilization is running roughshod over the environment.
It is a great pleasure to see these creatures in the environment that we provide in our zoos. And the sea lions’ performance on Thursday night at the gala was joyous to watch and a pleasure for them too. Allison and her husband Leonard Stern, and their co-chairs Darlene and Brian Heidtke, Katharina Otto-Bernstein and Nathan Bernstein, Ann and Andrew Tisch, Ann and Thomas Unterberg, and Priscilla and Ward Woods plus with the help of people like Ben and Linda Lambert, David and Lisa Schiff  who love the animals, they make a wonderful party for everyone. There are the drinks on the terrace, watching the sea lions, followed by dinner and dancing (and an auction of course) underneath the trellises surrounding the sea lion habitat. You see a lot of the same people every year so there is the additional pleasure of a shared fun, very gemutlich, very homey. Then about 9:30 or 10, the after-dinner crowd (much younger), big crowd comes in for drinks and dancing on into the night. They raised more than $1 million for the animals and a good time was had by all.
Jones York and Betsy Bartlett
Caolrine Hirsch and Andrew Fox
Diane Coffey
Dana and Scott Schiff
Karl Wellner with Jimmy Finklestein and Pamela Gross
Alan and Deborah Grubman
Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos with her cousin
Dana Stubgen and Peter Gregory
Ron and Harriet Weintraub
Diahn McGrath
Tom McGrath and friends
Muffie Potter Aston, Armand Lindenbaum, and Shari Rollins
Richard Hirsch and Elaine Bedell
Clive and Bonnie Chajet with Armand and Jeanne Lindenbaum
John and Lauren Veronis
Stuffing the goodie bags
Dick Nye and Ron Weintraub
Lisa Schiff, Terrence Flannery, Michael Feinstein, and Ashley Schiff
Then last night at the Waldorf-Astoria in the Grand Ballroom, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity held its Award Dinner and Oprah Winfrey was the Guest of Honor and recipient of the Foundation’s Humanitarian Award. This was a very special black tie evening –  unusual for a Sunday night in New York when people tend to want to stay home and get ready for the week upcoming.

More than 800 congregated for dinner and more than $3 million was raised for the Foundation. The Master of Ceremonies was Barbara Walters. Itzhak Perlman played three pieces – one by Fritz Kreisler, then the theme from “Schindler’s List” by John Williams and one by an early 18th century composer. The beautiful Jessye Norman sang gloriously– Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel,” and a spiritual with an arrangement done years ago by a member of the faculty of Howard University where Oprah spoke a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve been to benefit galas in the past where Oprah has appeared and been honored. She always draws a huge crowd of admirers. New Yorkers, no matter how jaded, love celebrities and there is no bigger celebrity maybe in the world than Oprah. She always looks glamorous but you never look at her without a sense of seeing a Whole Life in front of you. Her persona has been writ across the consciousness of so many; her influence has been so positive on the lives of so many; and here in New York, with this crowd, her immense success -- financially and philanthropically -- is mind-boggling. She’s the apotheosis of the modern American woman. All of this feels apparent in her presence.

The galas in the Waldorf Grand Ballroom are usually made up of tables of ten or twelve but last night there was also one long rectangular table in the center of the room. The Empire Brass Quintet was playing on the stage as we entered the room for dinner. Once everyone was congregated,  the Young People’s Chorus of New York sang Hatikvah and then the Star Spangled Banner

Then Barbara Walters introduced her friend Marion Wiesel, partner to her husband, collaborator with her husband in his work and the force behind the foundation. Mrs. Wiesel thanked the many people who assisted in making it such a successful evening, and introduced Leonard Riggio, CEO of Barnes & Nobel, who was the Gala Chair. Mr. Riggio was followed by Sidney Poitier, tall and commanding and speaking in his deep yet soft quiet tone, describing his friend Oprah as an angel who walks the earth.

After the dinner and dessert Ted Koppel spoke, introduced Mr. Wiesel who presented Oprah with her award, and then she spoke.
Roger Barnett, Oprah, Elie Wiesel, and Frederic de Narp
Elie Wiesel
This was supposed to be an early evening, but the energy in the room was very high and the crowds around the center table with Oprah and Elie Wiesel were not having anything early. After the first course, after Mr. Perlman had played and Ms. Norman had sung, Oprah got up and moved about the room greeting people, having her picture taken with various friends, including her good friend Gayle King and Elie Wiesel.  It was a very intimate atmosphere, despite the size of the crowd. 

Ms. King was at our table along with Cheryl and Ron Howard, Dan Senor, Warren and Olivia Hoge, Tom Ditmer, Campbell Brown and Peggy Siegal. The room was full of celebrities. At one table was Katie Couric, Dustin and Lisa Hoffman, Peggy Noonan, Liz Smith, Richard Stengel (of Time) Sydney Pollack, Matthew Hiltzik, David Bowie and Iman. At another were Harry Smith, Jeff Greenfield, Dena Sklar, Martin Bashir, Vera and Gabe Pressman, Tom Gates, Mitchell Douglas, Andrea Joyce, Kate Taylor. At another: Bob Balaban, Jada Yuan, Bryant Gumbel and Hilary Quinlan, Rachel Roy and Damon Dash,  Addie Morfoot, Amy McIntosh, Jeffrey Toobin, Lynn Grossman. Another: Alan Cumming, Edie Falco, John Singelton, Joanna Molloy, Greg Lauren with Elizabeth Berkley, Mitzi Andrews and Spencer Morgan. At another: Andre Leon Talley, Deborah Roberts, Zakiya Khapouchevassus, Jeffrey Slonim, Al Roker, Cynthia McFadden, Wyclef Jean, Darlene and David Rodriguez. Shoba Purushothaman. At another: Kathleen Lacey Jonathan and Somers Farkas, Chuck and Ellen Scarborough, Kathleen Lacey and James Hoge, David Margolick.

Also present, Mr. and Mrs. Ira Rennert, Stedman Graham, Roz Jacobs, Kasper, Harriette and Noel Levine, Princess Firyal of Jordan, Roger Barnett, Debbie and Leon Black, Paola and Mickey Schulhof, Sharon Handler, Fernando Botero, Ted Forstman who was sitting with Martha Stewart, Kathy and Tom Freston, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman and Mrs. Gillerman, Sharyn and Steve Mann, Elaine Sargent and Matthew Rich, Ellen and Dr. Richard Levine, Lally Weymouth, Nina Rosenwald, Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mrs. Kelly, George Rush.

The Humanitarian Award is given in recognition of outstanding accomplishments which are consistent with the goals of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Oprah’s award was bestowed in recognition of her global humanitarian efforts. She was presented with the Tzedaka Box, of which the inscription on it read: The Elie Wiesel Foundation Humanitarian Award to Oprah Winfrey in Recognition of her Global Humanitarian Efforts and Her Dedication to Children’s Welfare. Tzedaka boxes were found in synagogues throughout Eastern Europe until the Second World War. They are still used to collect funds which are then distributed anonymously to the needy.
Sharon Handler and Edie Falco
Sidney Poitier
Jessye Norman
L. to r.: Sharon Handler, Janice Gillerman, Ambassador Gillerman, Nurit Kahane, and Michele Herbert; Marion Wiesel.
Dustin Hoffman and Katie Couric
Liz Smith, Richard Stengel, and Peggy Noonan
Gillian Miniter, Chairman of the Central Park Conservancy's Playground Partners and Ward Landrigan, President of Verdura, hosted a cocktail party at the Verdura salon at 745 Fifth Avenue to benefit the Central Park playgrounds. Playground partners is a group dedicated to keeping Central Park's 21 playgrounds clean, safe and well maintained. Verdura has been a generous supporter of this program, offering 10% of related sales at the event and in store from May 8th through June 8th to benefit the Playground Partners.

Ward Landrigan and Melissa Biggs Bradley
Attendees included: Carol Herring and Jennifer Saul Yaffa; Central Park Conservancy President Douglas Blonsky; Verdura Vice-President Nico Landrigan; Central Park Conservancy Women's Committee President Nancy Paduano. Other friends of the Conservancy in attendance included Suzanne Cochran, Betsy Messerschmitt, Michael and Eleanora Kennedy, Wendy Carduner, Robyn Joseph, Adelina Wong Ettleson, Wilbur Ross and Hillary Geary Ross, Sheila Labrecque, Sylvester Miniter, Kamie Lightburn, Lydia Fenet, Susan Fales-Hill, Elyse Newhouse and Melissa Biggs Bradley.   

Fulco Verdura,  or rather Fulco, the duc di Verdura was a Sicilian aristocrat (known to one and all as Fulco) who became, by dint of his natural talent, a master jeweler in the 20th century. He came to America in the mid-1930s after working with Coco Chanel (having been introduced by Cole and Lnda Porter), and worked for a time for a jeweler Paul Flato in Hollywood and then set up his own shop in New York in an atelier on the second floor of what is now Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue.

Many of his clientele were his friends (or would become his friends), the rich and sophisticated – society figures, movie stars and royalty came to his shop, hobnobbed with him while he drew and entertained his guests. The list was long and the list of their acquisitions were longer because women collected Verdura, and many of the men in their lives encouraged it. Paul Mellon and Jock Whitney, for example, always bought many pieces for their wives, as did William Paley. Linda Porter gave her husband Cole a specially designed cigarette case by Verdura on the opening night of each of his shows. The Duchess of Windsor was another aficionado. But there were many.  A collection of Verdura was a sure stamp of chic, and wit, and beauty. He loved designing with colored stones. He loved making designs from animal likenesses, or seashells.
L. to r.: The young Fulco on the beach at Mondello, Sicily with his sister circa 1920; Babe Paley one of his great muses, wearing a 21.25 carat canary diamond ring in a gold wire coronet mount with small round diamonds (below left); Blackamoor brooch with a large cabochon emerald of 150 carats, diamonds and enamel.
A Verdura signature Maltese Cross cuff bracelet.
L. to r.: A woven gold and leather cigarette case, and a case with a map of South America, engraved in two-color gold, commemorating a journey taken by Mr. and Mrs. William S. Paley (later Dorothy Hirshon) in 1940; the master at work in the 1960s.
He himself was a funny little man, in that he was  small and very amusing.  He  had a sense of mischief and wit in his designs as well as his approach to many people and situations. People loved his company in the same way they loved his jewelry: it was bright, sharp, witty and it wore well and with consistency, as it does to this day. Many of his designs have worked their way into the mass market through copies and knock-offs.

Fulco died in 1978 in his 79th year. Several years later his business which included his archive of designs was acquired by Ward Landrigan who began his career working in the jewelry department at Sotheby’s. The salon at 745 Fifth (12th floor) is a bright and fascinating continuation of the style, chic and wit of this great master, and the ladies from the Central Park Conservancy, you can be sure, had a wonderful perusing (and buying) the treasures it has to offer.
Betsy Messerschmitt and Sheila Labrecque
Gillian Miniter, Susan Fales-Hill, Ward Landrigan, and Wendy Carduner
L. to r.: Ladies shopping Verdura; Michael and Eleanora Kennedy.
Carol Herring and Jennifer Saul Yaffa
/Robyn Joseph, Suzanne Cochran, and Lydia-Fenet
Hilary and Wilbur Ross
Kamie Lightburn and Jennifer Saul Yaffa with a friend

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