Friday, November 7, 2008

The Future, last night

Looking east from 31st and 10th Avenue. 10:00 PM. Photo: JH.
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11/7. Rainy and damp. The last couple of days have brought the foliage to its height. The past two days, the trees in Central Park transformed; drenched in the burnished orange, yellow and reds, this is that autumn moment and you have maybe another two days before the rains and winds will wash most of it to the ground.

The American Friends of Versailles’ Catharine and David Hamilton were in town to attend and co-host cocktail parties for the cause.

Patrick Gerschel and Catharine Hamilton
Evelyn Byrd Lorentzen
NYSD readers have seen some of the AFV’s amazing gala weeks at Versailles and in Paris. They are now planning something for late June 2009. Usually these excursions are capped off by a ball in the L’Orangerie at Versailles. This coming June there may not be a ball but there are some sensational “surprises” coming up. The organization is currently involved in the restoration of the Pavillon Frais at Versailles.

Will the AFV’s supporters get to see President Sarkozy (the French say Sar-ko-ZEE) at the Elysee Palace this coming June? I don’t know although a couple of years ago Madame Chirac hosted a reception for the AFV members at the Elysee.

The business of the financial crisis has begun to affect the equation of celebrations. This was mentioned in a letter Mrs. Hamilton wrote to the AFV members and supporters, to acknowledge the changing times for everyone. She also reminded that “Americans, however, have historically been optimistic, resilient and resourceful.” They are moving forward.

Last night Elizabeth and Patrick Gerschel hosted a cocktail for the group and friends at their apartment high above Fifth Avenue overlooking the Park, Central Park West and South. The Gerschels’ apartment was once part of a greater space built for Marjorie Meriweather Post.

Mrs. Post originally owned the house on the property. She sold it to a developer with the proviso that he build her a similar space on the top of the building. Three floors, fifty-four rooms and 25,000 square feet. Today the Gerschels occupy a few of those rooms (and quite a few others occupy other rooms of the original apartment) that have been converted into a single space.

Mr. Gerschel likes to say that they own the largest one bedroom apartment in town. And it is large since their living room was once Mrs. Post’s library. However, no matter how grand any of these apartments are, what is awesome and breathtaking and endlessly fascinating anytime day or night, are the views of New York.
Guests at the American Friends of Versailles cocktail reception.
At the party I saw Anne-Marie de Ganay who works with the AFV in Paris. The last great trip included a dinner at Mme. de Ganay’s family seat outside Paris. (see NYSD 6.20.07) She was very excited about election as well as the new French president. She is even related as President Sarkozy’s father was married to an aunt of Mme. de Ganay.

Today the “Friends” are taking a luncheon cruise on the Forbes’ yacht, The Highlander, given by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Forbes for the Board of Directors of the American Friends of Versailles and Mme. de Ganay and Mme. Nicole Salinger (widow of Pierre Salinger). A two hour cruise for a foliage tour of the Palisades and the mountains upriver. God’s Versailles.

Last night Gail Hilson invited me to a dinner at the Mandarin Oriental
hosted by the Board of Trustees of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and its president Bruce Stillman -- the Double Helix Medals Dinner and honored Sherry Lansing for Humanitarianism, Marilyn and James Simons for Corporate Leadership, James D. Watson for Scientific Research, and J. Craig Venter for Scientific Research.

This is the Laboratory’s annual fundraiser, three years out. Black tie. It’s a very serious dinner. It began with music played during the dinner played Byron Janis -- two pieces of Chopin and two of his own compositions. Mr. Janis who is now in his 81st year is particularly interested in the work of Cold Spring Harbor Labs.

Bruce Stillman, President of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Honoree Sherry Lansing and Herb Siegel.
Dr. Watson, as the world knows was a co-discoverer of the Double Helix, the DNA. CSHL has been his home for a long time now. Dr. Watson says that because of the work with the Human Genome and the study of the DNA, “we will be a healthier people in fifty years.”

Phil Donohue was emcee for the evening along with Deborah Norville. Marlo Thomas couldn’t be there. “When I married Marlo,” he told the audience, “I also married a hospital.” Marlo Thomas’ father Danny Thomas founded St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Tennessee.

Herb Siegel, the former chairman of Chris-Craft Industries, introduced Sherry Lansing. The name of Herb’s company confuses many people about the nature of its business – which under Herb’s hand was entertainment, mainly the movie business. At different times the company controlled three different movie studios, two of which, coincidentally, or maybe not, were presided over by a very smart young woman named Sherry Lansing.

Sherry Lansing started out in the movie business as an actress. She had the beginnings of a solid career when she decided to go over to the production side. Her first big job was Vice-President of Creative Affairs at MGM under a guy named James Aubry, one of the early tv moguls (who was deposed by his boss William Paley and went to work for the stockholders of MGM). Sherry’s rise was almost meteoric. By the late 70s, early 80s, she became the first woman studio president of a major studio – 20th Century-Fox. It was a very successful tenure and she went from there to a bigger position as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures.

Her groundbreaking success could be attributed to an intuitive shrewdness, a sense of the contemporary and a famous personality. She has a talent for getting things done. From the beginning she was well-known for responding to every phone call or communication she ever received from whomever. Personally. You picked up the phone and her voice was at the other end. “Hi Honey,” she might say in a very cheerful and reassuring tone. She has an almost supernatural ability to get along with people – especially the male element in that high testosterone business -- while at the same time wielding authority. In the highly emotional film and entertainment business.

When she was working at MGM under Jim Aubry in the late 1970s, one Saturday afternoon she and her boss took in a film in a theater in Beverly Hills. After the movie, they were about to cross Wilshire Boulevard when a car hit Sherry and knocked her over the hood and onto the pavement. Miraculously she wasn’t killed. When word got out in the movie community, a couple hours later dozens of people were crowding into the lobby at Cedars-Sinai desperate to know about the well-being of their friend. Hollywood is not famous for that kind of concern for a friend or even that kind of friend. That’s what that personality evokes in others.
Dr. James Watson, Deborah Norville, J. Craig Venter, and Bruce Stillman
Her mother died of cancer a number of years ago. It was an untimely death and a great loss to the daughter who has since made it her business to support research for cancer cures. After retiring from Paramount she’s taken it a step further; something for the greater good.

Last night’s dinner was remarkable also because of the awardees’ relationship to science. It is the creative part of their lives. Marilyn and James Simons have dedicated their lives now to supporting medical and educational institutions and projects. Mr. Simons, a former math professor, is the founder of Renaissance Technologies in 1982, a hedge fund known for its use of quantitative principles and mathematical models. Two years ago he earned $1.7 billion, more than any other hedge fund manager.

The Simons had two sons they lost in early adulthood in separate accidents. Much of their philanthropy has been inspired by the memory of their sons. Marilyn Simons has an undergraduate degree and a doctorate in economics from Stony Brook. Today she directs the bulk of their foundation’s donations toward mathematics and science. The short film that was shown about them showed two people who are curious, adventurous and eager to make the most of their lives improving things. Last night the Simons matched the contributions to the evening, dollar for dollar. The final tally with the Simons’ contribution came to about $4 million.
Frank Gifford, James and Marilyn Simons, and Kathie Lee Gifford
Dr. Watson and Craig Venter were the last awardees. These men who are about a generation apart and come from very different backgrounds, are bonded by their mutual scientific interests. Mr. Venter is the first man whose genome sequence has been done and put on the internet. Last night he said that one thing he learned from all this was how unalike (and alike) we all are. He said that Watson had a metabolism gene that had Asian origins and made the way he metabolizes very different from Venter’s.

I understand so little of this. Except. What these men and women are now doing is investigating the how’s and why’s of our functioning as human beings. People involved in autism research believe that this will be the path to finding a cure for it, as well as a cure for many many other things. The Human Genome is the key. The first one to be done cost $1 million. Mr. Venter’s. Dr. Watson’s was about $600,000. Dr. Watson said that they hope to get it down to $1000. Someday everyone will have been “sequenced.”

And so it was, The Future, last night at the Mandarin Oriental. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. http://www.cshl.edu/ find out for yourself.

Hillie Mahoney, Karl Wellner, and Elizabeth Watson Herb Siegel and Sherry Lansing Byron Janis and Maria Cooper Janis
Jeanne Siegel and Frank Gifford Tom Quick in discussion
David Koch and Deborah Norville Julia Koch and guest
Stanley Jaffe and James Watson James Watson, Gail Hilson, and Phil Donohue

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