Thursday, May 1, 2008

The night before the first of May

Outside the tennis courts in Central Park. 3:50 PM. Photo: JH.
On the first of May
It is moving day;
spring is here, so blow your job-
throw your job away;
Now the time to trust
to your wonderlust.
In the city's dust you wait
must you wait, Just you wait ...

Verse to Rodgers and Hart’s “Mountain Greenery”

New York was a busy town last night, the night before the first of May. Over at the Rainbow Room, the Boy’s Club of New York was holding its Spring Gala and honoring Betty Sherrill.

Daughter Ann Pyne, Betty, and granddaughter Elizabeth Pyne
New York is such that you can know a lot of people, love a lot of people and not see a lot of people you know and love because you’re so involved in whatever with whomever in what is essentially a ever-changing, very fluid scene. But Betty Sherrill, whom I know and love and rarely see is one of my favorite people in New York.

Like a lot of us, she came here from someplace else – in this case Louisiana (Nawlins) – quite some time ago, met and married, had a family and made a life here. She is what you might call a steel magnolia, and when springtime comes and buds are buddin’, Betty’s like all those other magnolias – dazzlin’. 

Some people know her as a very influential interior decorator, now the longtime head of the venerable firm of McMillen. Others know her for her charitable work which is extensive. Others know her for her social lioness self who presides in New York, Southampton and Hobe Sound. And still others know her as Betty, a force to reckon with as a hostess with the mostest and an aficionado of beauty.

About a year ago the NYSD HOUSE did an interview with Betty and it remains one of my favorites because it is pure Betty, and it includes her house here in New York where she has lived for five decades with her husband Virgil and her children (who’ve grown up, moved out and have families of their own). Her daughter Ann Pyne is now a partner in McMillen, and like her mother is a force on her own.

That’s an interesting combination. Ann also gave an interview to NYSD HOUSE and we’ve linked to both interviews if you haven’t read them before because they are in synergy, and as a whole piece articulate the powers of this woman and her daughter and these women together.

Anyway, I missed the evening at the Rainbow Room where they feted Betty because I was already committed to attending the birthday dinner of Amy Fine Collins, the author and New York fashion plate whose image has graced these and many other pages of New York life for several years.

Francie Whittenberg with Amy Fine Collins and Flora Collins
Amy is another New York woman who is a force, unlike but not unlike Betty Sherrill – a wife, mother, professional, friend and social figure as well as one involved in charitable circles.

Last night’s dinner was given by her friend Francie Whittenberg. Francie hails originally from Amarillo, Texas where her daddy was very big in oil or cattle or maybe both, and where she had a husband who was once mayor of the town. But that was then and this is now. Daddy is no longer with us and hubby is no longer with her. No regrets, mind you.

She and I first met in Los Angeles when we were both living there in the 1980s. Since then she’s taken up residence in the Virgin Islands – which she loves – in a big house that was renovated, refurbished and decorated by Carlton Varney, and occasionally gets to the Big Apple for evenings such as these.

Amy Fine Collins is well known for her fascinating pieces in Vanity Fair. As well as her memoir/autobio “The God of Driving: How I Overcame Fear and Put Myself in the Driver’s Seat (with the Help of a Good and Mysterious Man)” (Simon and Schuster).  She plays many roles: chic, sophisticated woman of the world, wife, mother, writer; the kind of woman who uses New York as her canvas.

There were about sixty guests last night upstairs at La Grenouille. As it would be with Amy, it was an eclectic group of the rich, the chic, the shameless, the work-a-bees, the doers, the movers and the shakers.
Fiona, Alexandra, and Sheila Kotur
Dr. Patrick Stubgen, Dana Hammond Stubgen, and Charles Atkins
Roberto de Guardiola, Richard Turley, and Jonathan Farkas
Parker Ladd and Brinsley Matthews
Dana Hammond Stubgen, Wilbur Ross, and Joanne de Guardiola
Carolina Herrera and Alex Hitz
Gayle Atkins, Dr. Patrick Stubgen, and Roberto de Guardiola
Reinaldo Herrera and Louise Grunwald
Dr. Gerry Imber and Ophelie Renouard
Nicholas Varney and Carol Mack
Honor Brodie and Bill Blair
Hilary Geary Ross
Nancy Novogrod and Arnold Scaasi
Flora Collins and Hugh Malone
John Novogrod, Andrew Solomon, and Nancy Novogrod
Todd Sowers, Alexandra Kotur, and Pierre Durand
Richard Sluscarczyk and Caroline Weber
Deeda Blair and Brad Collins
John Brodie and Priscilla Whittle
Kevin Ryan
Tom Stegman and John Habich
Deeda Blair, Alex Hitz, and Carol Mack
Amy Fine Collins and Peter Duchin
Somers Farkas with Charlene and Jimmy Nederlander
Hamish Bowles and Chris Whittle
Fiona Kotur and Robert Rufino
Gene Meyer, Liza Lerner, and Frank de Biasi
Richard Turley, Anne Slater, and John Cahill
At my table the conversation was lively. About politics. About Obama. Mainly. About Hillary somewhat. Not that much about McCain. None of that is necessarily an indication of people’s choices. In New York people are used to, conscious of, differing opinions; and so the conversation is often centered around “the latest.” Obama is definitely the latest today, thanks to Reverend Wright.

Whatever the political leanings of the guests, I couldn’t say but it seemed as if most believe the candidates will be Senator McCain and Senator Obama. Although ... Hillary remains looming. Bill is not held in high esteem these days, and is almost counted out. How quickly we forget. Many are inclined to predict how history will see it all. Many of us are apparently unaware that history pays no attention to any of this. For, as they say, if you’ll pardon my cliché: it ain’t over till the fat lady sings, and she’s not even begun to warm up yet.
However, whatever the political points of view, many in the room last night have connections or are only one or two degrees of separation from all three Presidential candidates/aspirants. Everyone knows that whoever is elected will be the man/woman to follow.

New Yorkers also live far far away from the so-called heartland – although many of us come from there to here, and as a result are likely to think we know what’s up out there because of what we read in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Few of us do, however. New Yorkers are often very knowledgeable when it comes to the “inside,” but are often sorely lacking when it comes to the “outside,” a place which many of us have worked hard to remove ourselves from.

After our main courses and the champagne flowing, Amy’s husband Brad Collins gave a brief speech about his fascinating wife. Her daughter gave a short but interesting speech about what it is like to be a daughter of this fashionable and dynamic woman; and then we sang “Happy Birthday.” No cake, just an exquisite dessert. A cool and beautiful Spring night in Manhattan.

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