Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Last night’s rounds

The Authors Guild members congregate in the main reception gallery of the Metropolitan Club last night before the dinner honoring Barbara Goldsmith. Photo: DPC.
Last night’s rounds. Beautiful night; a perfect temperature. Put on a black tie for the Authors Guild Dinner at the Metropolitan Club. Stopped off first at A.S.Parker, the store on Madison between 78th and 79th where Denise Wohl was debuting her summer fashion creation she calls “windtoss.” A visor and a silk scarf.  The ultimate accessory for the bikini crowd to keep the sun off the face and the out of the hair. So here it is.

Denise Wohl
Truthfully, product launches of any kind don’t really interest me but the opportunity to take a twilight stroll down Madison Avenue, take in the windows, have room on the sidewalk (it’s practically deserted pedestrian-wise) at that hour (after 7) does.

These are the moments when you walk and see how beautiful New York is at this time of the year. The green is fresh on the trees and for a moment you forget that it’s only temporary so you think the world’s returned in better shape.

Madison Avenue is lined with purveyors of luxury items or fine art or high technology luxury. Everything in better shape.

At 72nd I decided to catch a cab for a brief ride down Fifth that is now majestic in its thick and lush green foliage announcing the park.
Joan Jedell and Catherine Saxton
Montgomery Frazier and Anait Bian
Denise and Larry Wohl
Denise creations ..
AJ Parker and Denise Wohl
The Metropolitan Club was built by JP Morgan and friends. You probably know the story. When it was built, the avenue was lined with private houses both north and south, except for the hotels – the Sherry Netherland, the Plaza and the St. Regis, and maybe another. It was a very elegant thoroughfare. The Metropolitan Club retains that elegance both outside and in, in sharp contrast to contemporary life. It is an authentic reminder of another age when the tradition required a formality that is now a dim memory, if that, for all of us.

There are a number of semi-public events that take place at the club when organizations hire the first floor rooms for a charity benefit.  The elegance of Mr. Morgan’s club elevates or at least affirms an organization’s distinction. So it’s a good experience to enter its portals.

The main reception room was mobbed when I arrived. Once upon a time I would walk into a room full of strangers like this and wished I could leave because I couldn’t think of any thing to say to anybody that might put me at ease. On this beat, however, having gone to hundreds and hundreds of parties where most people were complete strangers, I’m used to it. I even like it. I go to look.
Diahn McGrath and Randy Jones before dinner
I first scan the crowd to see if there is anyone I know. If not, I look for faces that are familiar, or a famous face. I have no desire to talk to anyone because watching is far more intriguing.  Crowds especially.

Many of the faces in the room last night were famous writers. The thing about writers, however, is that most of them are not famous faces, like movie stars.  However, I saw Erica Jong. I have the privilege of knowing Erica, but rather than going over to say hello, I decided to just watch her converse with another. Erica smart, as you may know, and a woman of opinions; but observing her from afar I saw only her innocent gentleness. I can’t think of any other way to put it. She’s very likeable.

Not far from her I also saw Susan Isaacs, whom I’ve met but do not know. Also very likeable, and from my perch, I could see that quite clearly.  And Barbara Taylor Bradford  who always looks impeccable and very much like and lives the life of a woman who has sold 75 million books. Also very likeable.

Over on the edge of the crowd on other side of the room were a couple (married) who are not as famous as some of the other writers, such as the aforementioned, but very famous amongst their peers in what is this New York literary colony: Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter (I don’t think you need to be filled in there) and the very famous editor Jason Epstein.

I saw John Grisham, whom I’d never seen before but the face looks like the face on the bookjackets, with a few more folds, and some gray at the temples. He was listening intently to a man I did not recognize. Also a nice face. I am an admirer of his work and his productivity. 

Then through the crowd I came across Harry Benson, the photographer. He came over. Harry is also very productive but always looks like he’s worried about whether or not he’ll get another gig.  He’s published a number of books and is publishing two more in the near future. He’s photographed almost every famous person in the world in the past half century since he first came to this country (he’s Scottish and still has a thick brogueu) with the Beatles. If you’re under forty-five, or maybe fifty, you don’t know the impact of that “came to this country with the Beatles.”  The culture changed. Forever.

The room was full of famous writers and most of them unrecognizable. Writers at these events also look different, even in black tie. Many look professorial and slightly rumpled. Others look out of place in the uniform. Others look like businessmen who do this sort of thing all the time.  The women often dress a little more dramatically, artistically, shall we say, than at a non-writer social event. You imagine some of them are quite bohemian, or brainy, or eccentric. Or novelists. That’s part of the mystique of being a writer. To this reporter anyway.

The dining room which faces the avenue is very grand, gilted and ornate. Outside the tall large windows you can see the cars on Fifth Avenue and the Park across the street.  You really feel like you’re in New York and nowhere else in the world. It’s a fantasy feeling.

They were honoring Barbara Goldsmith last night. It was a fundraiser for the Guild but also an opportunity to honor a fellow writer. Barbara Goldsmith is prolific and smart, and a best-selling author, but  also very industrious. Her children must have been awed by her. She’s one of those women who seems to have the facility for getting a lot of things done. All the time. Things that are important.
Barbara Goldsmith
John Grisham and Sidney Offit
Robert Caro, the Johnson and Robert Moses biographer, who has won multiple literary awards, was the presenter. He and Ms. Goldsmith have been friends since they met through their editor Bob Gottlieb at Knopf quite a few years ago. He talked about how Barbara and he once were discussing how the paper in books more than 30 years old would crumble apart in time. Later Barbara looked it into it and discovered it was the high-acid-content paper that these books were being printed on that couldn’t withstand age. She then engaged hundreds of writers in encouraging all the publishers in this country to change the paper they used. Eventually they succeeded and all books are now printed on paper that can last hundreds of years. She also took the process one step further: she established and funded a department at the New York Public Library to study and restore these books we are losing from paper disintegration.

Reflecting on this I can see how some wouldn’t understand the importance of this business of paper crumbling. Others will, but writers always will. For writers, pages are life. Barbara Goldsmith protects writer’s lives. She is like a godmother to writers. That can sound hyperbolic, but that is the way she is.

The evening’s “host” was a man named Andy Borowitz. I’d never heard of him before although he is a well known humorist and performing comedian. He read a piece he wrote for the New Yorker. It was an “insider’s look” at Emily Dickinson. Written from the point of view of a hip and irreverent modern friend of the belle of Amherst. I couldn’t stop laughing. I had to concentrate on not letting myself get out of control or out of breath.

Mr. Borowitz who is about 6’6”, lanky and with a head of hair that recalls Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, has a wry deliver that takes you down a path of absurdity that is irresistible. It’s a combination of Woody Allen and Lucille Ball set to words. And on mushrooms of course. The dinner was over by nine-fifteen; almost a miracle. Still a beautiful night, I walked up Fifth Avenue to The Frick Collection on 70th Street. The Frick was having its annual private party for their members. About 400 were expected although when I arrived at 9:30 they were just coming in. All the gardens were open including the grounds in the front of the house. A lone cellist sat on the terrace playing for the guests. There were bars set up in the gardens, on the edge of the atrium, and an orchestra in one of the lecture rooms. The ladies were in long dresses and the gents in black tie. Waiters passed little desserts. It was formal and very informal. Like the Metropolitan Club, The Frick also elevates the visitor with its natural reverence for another age. It was a beautiful night in New York.
Harry and Gigi Benson
Diahn and Tom McGrath with Barbara Taylor Bradford
Alice Goldsmith and and Arnold Scaasi
Lynn Sherr
Tom McGrath
Andy Borowitz and friend
The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity dinner on Sunday night at the Waldorf was a celebrity studded affair. More than 800 attended and more than $3 million was raised for the Foundation. Oprah Winfrey was honored with the Humanitarian Award.
Sharon Handler, Maria Snyder, and Linda Corradina
Martha Stewart and Ted Forstmann
Peggy Siegal
Sharon Handler, Edie Falco, and Maria Snyder
Ellen and Dick Levine
Spencer Morgan
Veronica and Ray Kelly
Padma Lakshmi and Alan Cumming
Inga Rennert
Sharyn and Steve Mann with Nina Rosenwald
Jane Friedman
Dr. Steven Butensky and Di Petroff
Denise LeFrak and John Colicchio
Warren Hoge
Olivia Hoge
Roz Jacobs
David Bowie and Iman with Sydney Pollock
Rachel Rudin
Ron and Cheryl Howard
Monica Crowley
Michele Herbert
Gayle King
Daria and Larry Leeds
Spencer Morgan and George Rush standing behind Inga Rennert and Stedman Graham
Kasper with Sylvia Hassenfeld
The Empire Brass Quintet
Noel Levine and Patty Gerber
Harriette Levine

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