Friday, April 25, 2008

Closing out the week

First Presbyterian Church on West 12th Street. 6:30 PM. Photo: JH.
More sunny Spring days in New York with temperatures reaching up into the high 70s as well as some balmy breezes blowing in off the East River.

I was still thinking about Wednesday night’s reception at the Hearst Tower for the exhibition of Harper’s Bazaar & American Fashion: 75 Years of Headlines and Hemlines. My friend Charlie Scheips (rhymes with “yipes”) curated this exhibition to  go along with the book “American Fashion” (Assouline) that he put together for the CFDA last September, and which is now in its second or third printing. Some say it’s  the greatest compendium or catalogue of American fashion of the 20th century. It certainly is a treat to the eye and the imagination and a history of American style.

Luis Estevez for Dina Merrill, cover of LIFE, 1960
What struck me about  the exhibition (and the space in the new bright and light Hearst Tower -- the FIRST all-GREEN building in Manhattan -- was the combination of the fashion on the mannequins versus the fashion of the viewers that night. If there were differences, they were in terms of combinations -- a variety of skirt lengths, a variety of styles from dressy to casual, on the visitors/viewers. But the mannequins revealed ideas and styles that are still providing the cue for fashionable young women today. And the mannequins dictated that Classic is still in. Luis Estevez’ black, backless floor-length sheath with  a plunging neckline and an attached train designed for Dina Merrill for the cover of LIFE in 1960 is as fresh as if it were going to be worn to the opening of the ballet next week. Valentina’s circa 1942 black suit would look as arrestingly chic today on the female CEO of a major corporation as it is looked on Dorothy (Mrs. William) Paley in that year.

The difference today might be that young women are more experimental with their design choices. But a look around the room on Wednesday night revealed that they still like to look fabulous as well as sensible, as well as comfortable.

Charlie Scheips was wearing an outlandish jacket that sensibly reflects another aspect of the fashion of the  passing times. A vintage item now, the fabric was designed by Andy Warhol (Charlie published “The Day The Factory Died” with photographer Christophe von Hohenberg two years ago), and the jacket itself was the creation of Stephen Sprouse, the fashion designer and darling of the 1970s.
Joan Quinn and Charlie Scheips
Charlie Scheips and Laura Montalban
Sue Chalom, John Wilson, and Denise deLuca
Arnold Scaasi creation
Marisa Berenson and daughter Starlite
Mona Monahan
Charlie was also wearing the jacket as a tribute to the event we were both going to afterwards -- Creative Time’s annual gala dinner for 500 being held at Guastavino’s, the restaurant under the 59th Street Bridge between First and York Avenues. They were honoring our friend Beth DeWoody, the contemporary art collector and, with her family, the Rudins, supporter of many cultural and philanthropic causes in New York.

I got over to Guastavino’s by the time most of
the guests had arrived and were having cocktails on the first landing. I’ve known Mrs. DeWoody since the early 70s when she was a kid fresh out of UC Santa Barbara and already collecting vintage items such as books, magazines, clothing and objets, particularly Americana. I watched as she blossomed into a full-fledged collector of art and sculpture, and has since become a very familiar figure on the American art scene here in New York but also all over the world. Although we’ve been friends for decades, I am always surprised to learn of the large number and variety of friends she has everywhere she goes, and it’s through her that many of us -- maybe even you -- are related by only one or two degrees of separation.
Fred Anderson, Stephen Jacoby, and Charlie Scheips
Michael Greengass and Joanne Cassullo
Naz, Carlton DeWoody, and Tom Lampson
Ann Pasternak and Cristina Grajales
Royce Pinkwater
Beth DeWoody and David Byrne
Susan Davis and her daughter Zoey
famous photog, Cindy Sherman, unmasked
Randall Beale and Carlton DeWoody
New York businessman George McFadden was killed this past Tuesday afternoon along with the pilot and one other passenger when his single engine Cirrus SR22 crashed into the Toledo Bend Reservoir in Sabine County, Texas en route from Tupelo, Mississippi to Spring, Texas, north of Houston. The other passengers, pilot Daniel McIntire, 54 and Heather Hardin, 34, both of whom worked for Crescent Drilling, a Houston energy-exploration company in which George McFaddden, 67, was a major investor.

A spokesman for the FAA said air traffic control had put out a notice about 4 p.m.that the plane was overdue. Shortly thereafter a 911 call reporting a crash was received. Local news dispatches reported that eyewitnesses heard the plane engine sputtering and then saw it nosedive through the clouds into the reservoir. The plane is the same model which was carrying Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle when it crashed into a building on East 72nd Street last year, killing both Lidle and the pilot. None of the bodies from the McFadden plane have been recovered as of this writing.

George McFadden
Ironically, George, who was at one time the proud possessor of a Gulfstream IV, had told friends he “didn’t feel safe” in that plane and would never fly on it again. He is survived by his wife Carol, their two children and a daughter Lisa Melas of Athens, Greece.

George McFadden, born in January 1941 to Mary Josephine Cutting and Alexander Bloomfield McFaddden. It was to be a life that might have been set to print by novelists of the days such as J. P. Marquand, or possibly, considering its epilogue, John O’Hara.

The Cuttings and the McFaddens were both members of what was then known as Society in New York (and America) -- people with long pedigrees dating back to the 17th and 18th century, colonial families from the  Boston-Philadelphia-New York axis who made fortunes in early industry, shipping and real estate, who intermingled, inter-married and formed the bulk of the names found in the then very exclusive Social Register. When their younger set began to patronize the nightclubs (having patronized the Speakeasies of Prohibition) of the early 1930s, Hearst columnist Maury Paul who wrote the syndicated society column Cholly Knickerbocker, dubbed its racier members (read: playboys and boozers) “socialites,” a kind of double-edged leg-up and putdown of the faster social elite.

The McFaddens were prominent ante-bellum cottonbrokers from Memphis and the City of Brotherly Love beginning in the 19th century. George’s father, always known as Mickey, met Josie Cutting of New York, at a friend’s house in Newport where both families summered.

The couple had three children, Mary, now the internationally famous fashion designer, George, and John. Early in the marriage they moved to Brookville, Long Island, the center of the great Nassau County estates and polo grounds, where George went to the Greenvale School.

In 1948, when George was seven, Mickey McFadden was killed in an avalanche somewhere near Aspen, Colorado where he had gone to ski with his brother-in-law Alexander Cushing (who later created the Squaw Valley, California ski resort). The men were watching as the snow started to move and Mickey McFadden was suddenly unable to escape harm’s way. The death of the father made an impression on the child from which he never quite recovered. Many times thereafter he would say that when he died he wanted to be buried next to his father, to be reunited finally in death.

Mickey McFadden’s widow made two short marriages after his death -- the first to a man whose identity is all but forgotten (and to some, even unknown) by family members, and the second to Howell van Gerbig (who later married Ann Trainor -- now Ann (Mrs. Morton) Downey) another socially prominent member of the New York -- Long Island set. In 1953, at age 36, she married her fourth husband Watson Blair, a banker with JP Morgan and ten years her junior, with whom she had twins -- Watson and Wolcott Blair.

George McFadden with sister Mary
The Blairs lived in St. Louis, where Josie Blair served on the board of Symphony, and in New York in a very grand apartment at 834 Fifth Avenue, (now owned by Susan and John Gutfreund), as well as in Brookville, Southampton, and Hobe Sound.

Josie Blair was a formidable woman on social scene of her day -- far different from today’s --where a woman was admired for her abilities to run her multi-residences seamlessly, to entertain graciously; for her couture and style and for her philanthropic and cultural interests. She served on the boards of the Manhattan School of Music -- she was an acccomplished pianist -- and of Juilliard. For the boy, George, Mother was a formidable figure who, like her social peers, left the rearing of her children to household staff and the professionals hired for such, and the masters who ran their schools.

George grew up to be a pleasant and friendly fellow, not shy, somewhat reserved; smart and curious. He went to St. Paul’s, to Vanderbilt and then to Columbia Business. Afterwards he went to work for Charlie Allen, the legendary banker and private equity investor (and father of Terry Allen Kramer) on Wall Street.

In 1969 George married Topsy Taylor (See The List), one of the most fashionable and eligible of the social beauties in New York, who was also from an old and prominent family (her great-great-great-grandfather Moses Taylor founded the National City Bank -- now Citicorp; and was an early partner of the Astors, as well as a financier of American railroads). In 1971, their daughter Lisa was born.

About that time George went out on his own and with his younger brother John founded McFadden Brothers, a private equity firm. The firm became a great success. The McFaddens were a popular couple in New York and Newport -- where Topsy’s family owned a private island (which she owns today).

Twenty years into the marriage George decided to leave. The break-up, which came as a sad shock to his wife, was handled honorablly and properly and the couple continued to have a business relationship, with their daughter holding a one-third interest in his firm and Topsy continuing to invest in the firm’s projects (including Crescent Drilling, the company he was visiting in Texas this past week).

George and Carol McFadden
A couple of years after the divorce, George married Carol Morton, an American divorcee with two children who had been living in London. In the mid-1990s the couple bought a spectacular mansion in the East 90s where they entertained grandly. They also lived in Southampton in a house George had  bought while married to Topsy on Lake Agawam. (Part of their divorcce agreement was that the Southampton house would eventually be left to their daughter Lisa).

In the late 90s, however, some of George’s investments had some major reversals and he was hit with what for him were hard times. The great house in Manhattan was sold for almost $18 million to Woody Allen. The McFaddens gave a lavish dinner dance to mark the sale of the mansion and it was said that Carol McFadden, at the end of that evening, sat on a sofa and cried her eyes out like Scarlett O’Hara losing Tara. There were recurring rumors that the Southampton house might be put on the market except for its connection to Lisa. And there were recurring rumors that the marriage was in trouble.

Meanwhile in 2000, Lisa McFadden married a young Greek businessman George Melas and moved to Athens, spending part of her summrs in a guesthouse on the Southampton property. the Melases had two children, the bride learned to speak Greek fluently, much to the amazement of her in-laws, and also went to work for Christie’s as their representative in Athens.

Not all was well with father and daughter, however. The father’s fiduciary management of his daughter’s interests were severely lacking as well as patronizingly unexplained. Many believed it was because his tottering financial fortunes had been very slow in recovering and his lifestyle continued to tax his assets. Furthermore, age was presenting its conditions: Goerge had a hip replacement which he was somehow slow in recovering from. Friends worried that he was looking none too resilient and in low spirits.

And the Southampton house was put up for sale, reportedly much to the objection of his eldest daughter. Father and daughter were estranged and he seemed uninterested in participating in repairing their relationship. Very recently the house was sold for $25 million to a hedge fund owner. Southampton had been in George’s blood from boyhood. Friends were not surprised that he had leased a house across the street from his for $300,000 for the season.

Very recently, despite his faltering health, George’s marriage had thus far survived and he had seemed more optimistic about his business investments, especially with this energy exploration company in Texas, and he was excited about it. It was for that that he’d made the journey once again down to Texas and now, no longer with the Gulfstream to transport him, he had willingly boarded that single engine airccraft he didn’t feel safe in.

His familiy is hoping that his remains will be found so that he can be provided with his lifelong wish -- to be buried next to his beloved father in Philadelphia.

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