Friday, September 26, 2008

Morning Glories

Overgrown Petunias on West 96th Street. 1:30 PM. Photo: JH.
9/26. Good morning rainy New York. Today is the 110th anniversary of the birth of George Gershwin, American musical genius. Born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn to Ukrainian Jewish parents. His father altered the name to Gershvin and when he began a professional musician, George changed it again to Gershwin.

His interest in music began in early childhood. He loved to play the piano. When he was fifteen he quit school to become a “song plugger” in Tin Pan Alley, playing new tunes and making piano rolls. By the time he was 18 he had made hundreds of piano rolls of popular American tunes including a few of his own. Some of those can still be heard on Gershwin CDs. He also worked in vaudeville as a piano accompanist to Nora Bayes, a Broadway musical star in the first third of the century. He wrote his first commercial success at 19 and when he was 21 he had his first big hit, now an almost ninety-year old American standard, “Swanee.” In 1924 at 26 he had his first Broadway hit, “Lady Be Good” starring Fred and Adele Astaire. That same year he wrote his first classical work, “Rhapsody In Blue,” which was presented in a much anticipated performance that year at the Aeolian Hall by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, where it was a sensation.

George Gershwin, "The high priest of modern American music." He had just completed the score to his opera "Porgy and Bess" when this was taken in 1935 by Edward Steichen.
By his early 30s, he and his brother Ira were a hot musical team on Broadway and in Hollywood. George was the man about town, stylish, sought after and major heart throb among the women in café society and the smart set. At any party, if there were a piano (and there usually was), George would play, and he’d play all night if he felt like it. That was his secret, and like the piped piper of the ivories all the girls followed his notes. It also made him a highly prolific composer.

Early in his thirty-ninth year, however, he was suffering “blinding headaches” and the recurring impression of “smelling burning rubber.” It was a malignant brain tumor (glioblastoma multiforme). On July 11, 1937, after collapsing and having had brain surgery, he died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (now Cedars Sinai) in Los Angeles. He was 38. Because of the suddenness of his illness, his death came as a great shock to the American public and especially to his legions of friends and admirers who knew only a dynamic and vibrant talent, still fresh and new.

His music remains so popular today that many tunes have entered people’s unconscious where they are very familiar with them even without knowing their titles or lyrics.

PS. The last house George Gershwin lived in was on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills. A number of years later the house was acquired by actor Jose Ferrer and his wife, vocalist Rosemary Clooney (also aunt of George Clooney). When Bing Crosby visited Ms. Clooney, the first thing he wanted to know was “which room” was the one where George Gershwin collapsed. When told, he was so spooked, he’d never set foot in it.
Miss Ethel Waters in "As Thousands Cheer" photographed for Vanity Fair by Bruehl. Mae West in Hoyningen-Huene's portrait from the set of her film "She Done Him Wrong" in 1934 at Paramount Studios.
Jean Harlow. The Reagans.
Mr. Leslie Howard, taken by Steichen in 1934. Paul Robeson in the role of the emperor in the filmization of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, by Edward Steichen, 1933.
Carolina Herrera, Ahmet Ertegun and Reinaldo Herrera at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Mortons Los Angeles, by Larry Fink 2000.
Miss Josephine Baker, the great American icon of Parisian expats in the 1920s, here in a photograph by Hoyningen-Huene in 1931. Cary Grant, also by Hoyningen-Huene in Los Angeles, 1934, having just completed "She Done Him Wrong" opposite Mae West, VF predicted screen stardom for the young former vaudevillian.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Crawford (then Mr. and Mrs.) on the beach of the "Golden Mile" of Santa Monica, California, Nicholas Murray in 1929.
Coincidentally, the portrait of George Gershwin was taken by Edward Steichen in 1935 for Vanity Fair is one of an extraordinary new collection of 300 portraits done for the magazine over the past 95 years, now compiled in a beautiful coffee table book by Graydon Carter, the magazine’s longtime editor-in-chief. It also marks the 25th anniversary of the revived Vanity Fair.

Click to order
I spotted it first in the windows of Barneys New York last week. That was when I learned that Madison Avenue had an avenue association night of shopping and promoting Vanity Fair’s “Campaign New York” – a 12 day series of editorial and advertiser-sponsored events in and around New York City.

This included a shopping night last week at Tod’s, benefiting the Watermill Center. Then Barney’s had a booksigning for Graydon Carter.

Many of the portraits are so familiar to the eye, just like the Gershwin tunes are to the ear. All of them are affecting in a variety of ways, a compendium of the American style, sometimes glamour, often artistry, unique personalities and even genius.

It is the perfect gift for yourself or anyone you know who loves photography or the American culture of arts and entertainment of the past century or the magic of the refined image taken by the greatest portrait photographers of the age.
Graydon Carter and Roberta Armani Rhonda MacDaniel, Graydon Carter, Gianluca Passi, Roberta Armani, and George Kolasa
Amy Fine Collins Douglas Hannant and Fred Anderson Fran Lebowitz Lisa Anastos
Simon Doonan Leonard Lauder and Barry Diller Leigh Lezark and Geordon Nicol
Early last evening, with the weatherman promising “heavy rain” (which was a bit of a miscall). I went down to the opening reception held by Joe Nye New York for an exhibition of oil paintings from the Dutch Touch Art Company at the Claremont showroom at 1059 Third Avenue at 64th Street.

Mr. Nye who is an interior designer out of Los Angeles, with furniture showrooms there and here at Claremont, is a friend of NYSD as readers may have noticed, so we thought we’d take in the show.
The showroom of the Claremont Collection and Joe Nye exhibiting the oil paintings of the Dutch Touch Art Company.
Dutch Touch was started by a mother-daughter team Barbara von Schreiber and Shawn Silver who work with a guild of artists in China who produce their highly decorative canvases at prices that run in the low four figures. The paintings will be on view through November 1st.
Joe Nye and Barbara von Schreiber before one of Dutch Touch Art Co.'s trompe l'oeil Shawn Silver and Barbara von Schreiber (daughter/mother) of Dutch Touch
Eddie Ross, Jaithan Kochar, and Patrick McMullan Joe Nye and Anne Pyne Patrick McMullan and friends
Luis Acevedo, Felicia Brescia, and Tony Manning Bruce Shostak, Craig Fitt, and Brian Calloway
More Dutch Touch Art accessorizing the collection of Joe Nye New York.

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