Monday, March 3, 2008

Memories are made of this

A young Judy Green poses for Andy Warhol in a GAP window at 23rd and Eighth Avenue.
A beautiful sunny weekend in New York. Cold and mild, perfect for those long walks all bundled up, or taking in a good movie.

Memories are made of this. Down on Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street, the GAP has as part of its window display a four-part Warhol silk screen portrait of our late great friend Judy Green. The work was one in the 1960s and I don’t know how it came about. It hung for years over the bar commode in the library of her apartment at Park Avenue and 62nd Street. I looked at it so often (either waiting for her before going out to dinner or at one of her parties) that I couldn’t imagine it being anywhere but there. Judy’s evenings – unless it was a big party – always started in her Ann Downey decorated-fire engine red library, and the cocktails flowed. And flowed and flowed. Along with the laughter and the talk and the discussion.

Remembering. Looking again at those images of the woman as a very young woman, with those big eyes that were bright and curious: she was a New York girl, born and bred. Some said the personification of Marjorie Morningstar, the Herman Wouk novel later turned into a film starring Natalie Wood.

She grew up on Central Park West, went to dancing school on the East Side. She always made lots of friends, many of whom she kept, and met and made armies of friends all along the way throughout her lifetime. She was pretty, witty, and sharp as a tack; a real smart one. She went to Vassar; always read voluminously and quickly and remembered everything – in detail.

In her late 20s, she married a wealthy businessman much older (for those times) than herself, named Bill Green who was in the packaging business. During their marriage they lived on a big estate in Mount Kisco, kept a small apartment at the Ritz Tower and traveled everywhere by private helicopter or plane. I don’t know how they met, but as a very young woman, working as an advertising copywriter, she met Irving “Swifty” Lazar who took her under his wing and introduced her to his wide and high-toned group of celebrated friends. Bill Green’s two closest friends were Edgar Bronfman Sr. and Frank Sinatra.

It was during those years in the country that she wrote novels – precursers to what we now call chick-lit, hot and racy and shocking enough to get the talkers talking. She had a great natural facility for the rhyme and was very proud to be related through her mother to Broadway lyricist Dorothy Fields.

Judy at Joe and Joan Cullman's fishing camp in Canada, 1998.  
She herself lacked not the talent, but the focused drive to follow in her relative’s footsteps, for she loved the theatre and she loved writing the kind of rhymes that fit a melody. And she loved to sing too -- although she could not carry a tune. One Christmas she recorded a song as a special gift for Sinatra. Amused he might have been, impressed he was not: “kid, leave the music to me,” he told her in his thanks.

The Green marriage produced a son and a daughter but the two personalities were big and often clashing, something that wasn’t quelled by Mr. Green’s habitual fondness for liquor. Nevertheless, it endured until his sudden death in the mid-1980s from stroke during a vacation at Claudette Colbert’s house in Barbados where they were guests along with Frank and Barbara Sinatra.

After her husband’s death, Judy sold the big house in Mount Kisco and moved back to the City, to the apartment on 62nd and Park. It was there that she threw many famous and big cocktail parties and dinners with a guest list that ran the gamut from high up to low-down, all of which amused her, although society per se, bored her after the initial exposure. She was always a welcoming hostess and there were often houseguests in from the Coast or from Europe who might stay for days or even weeks at a time.
Christmas at Chez Green in 2000.
She loved to travel. She’d hop a boat or a plane at the drop of a hat. Winters were frequently spent in Palm Beach and summers in the Hamptons with weeks or weekends in Paris or London. She loved to play cards and to gamble and kept a $10,000 balance with her favorite bookie, betting on sports, betting on the ponies, betting on whatever the boys were following.

She was also the kind of friend you could call on a moment’s notice because you needed ten grand pronto. The check would be waiting downstairs with the doorman, no questions asked. Some never paid it back too; and although she noticed, there were no regrets.

The only regrets had to do with friendships or lost love, for Judy was a romantic. A Manhattan romantic – she loved New York, she loved leaving it but more than anything she loved returning, loved the sight of it, crossing the Triborough on her way home from the airport. The song, sung by her husband’s best pal, was her anthem.

Although it never would have occurred to her to sell the Warhol (it was sold by her estate at auction for $2.1 million to a collector), the thought of it hanging in the window of The GAP, seven years after she’d left the town for good, would have made her laugh – or rather giggle, like the kid who was given a surprise birthday party surrounded by all her chums, and maybe a movie star thrown in – like maybe Natalie Wood.

She passed four days after 9/11, after an excruciating ten month illness. There are still many times when I pass her building late in the afternoon or at night on the way home when I look up to see if a light is burning. I like to imagine she is still there. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has that thought. For she is missed; she will always be missed. She was something else. And to the GAP, thanks for the memory.

For more on Judy Green see The List in Memoriam.

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