Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Price of Fame

Sunset, 7:15, overlooking the roof of the Gugg, with the Jacqueline Bouvier Onassis Reservoir to the right, the Met just beyond, and looking down to Central Park South and Columbus Circle. Photo: DPC.
Tuesday, 9/16. It was a warm and beautiful day in New York yesterday. Traffic was light when I took a cab to midtown and Michael’s restaurant where I was having lunch with Judy Price. The topic on everyone’s mind was the news about Lehman and Merrill Lynch, two historic Wall Street investment banks that will disappear because of the financial upheaval that is rolling through the Wall Street community and over hill and dale. The forecasts are dire. If you read Nouriel Roubini, the NYU Stern School of Business professor of economics who has been forecasting all of this for several years now, you will see an analysis that is alarming. Roubini is also founder of the RGE Monitor. http://www.rgemonitor.com. See for yourself.

Necklace, Deir el-Balah, 13th century B.C.E. consisting of 133 pomegranate-shaped and round camelian and gold beads, from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
I was having lunch with Mrs. Price who was once my employer when she owned Avenue magazine which she founded in 1975, and I was her editor-in-chief (1997-2000). She sold the magazine several years ago and has since embarked on her creation The National Jewelry Institute which is an organization that is “the world’s first institute devoted to jewelry and precious objects,” has embarked on a series of exhibitions on jewelry.

Jewelry, or rather the presence of jewelry in the psyche of men and women, fascinates this writer who thinks of it principally as décor. Although Judy Price asked me if I were wearing any jewelry; and knowing it was a trick question (answer would be yes), I said: “yes, a watch.” Aha! That’s right, she exclaimed with a laugh. She also told me that men were the biggest buyers of jewelry and it is often for investment purposes the way a collector would buy paintings.

“But gems are much smaller and easier to store,” she explained. She also told me how Cartier had once made a ring for Jack Dempsey, the prize fighter in the 1920s, a diamond ring commemorating his winning the World’s Boxing Championship. That piece is owned today, she told me, by a well known American man, who bought it and keeps it in a vault. His vault. With other valuable pieces he’s acquired along the way.
When I told her that it still seemed like a limited market, she informed that last year QVC alone sold over $2 billion in jewelry.
Necklace with Cross Pendant. Byzantium, 6th to 7th century C.E.; Gold, oriental pearls, emerald, sapphire, gamet, spinel, amethyst, colored glass. Private Collection.
Top: Ring, Middle East 9th to 10th century C.E. Gold, lapis lazuli. Private Collection. Above: Seal Ring. Middle East 13th century C.E. Gold, camelian. Private Collection.
Anyway, all of this has led to her new book for which the author Barbara Goldsmith gave a cocktail reception last week at the Knickerbocker Club. The opening lines of the book, Masterpieces of Ancient Jewelry are: Men and women have adorned themselves with jewelry from the earliest times of nomadic life when wild animals were first domesticated and land cultivated.

Next Tuesday at the Forbes Gallery in the Forbes Magazine building on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, Mrs. Price is hosting an opening cocktail reception for Masterpieces of Ancient Jewelry: Exquisite Objects from the Cradle of Civilization. The 132-piece collection has been culled from the Louvre, Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum. The exhibition will run through December 31st.

Michael’s itself was in the news last week when Frank Bruni, the restaurant critic for the New York Times reviewed it after breakfasting, lunching and dining there. Mr. Bruni, who is not known for going gently into that dark kitchen, so to speak, lambasted parts of the Michael’s menu (although he loved a breakfast omelet that I’d never had and which sounded delicious) and generally let the chef have it.
The view from DPC's table at Michael's.
I am not a gourmand although I have a large and ongoing appetite. However, unless something is giving me attitude when I’m eating it, I tend to like what I am eating when ordered in a restaurant. Occasionally at one restaurant or another, I’ll have something that speaks to me, sings to me, but otherwise I am not persnickety. I rarely go to a restaurant for the food, but for the company.

The company keeping at Michael’s at this time at the beginning of the new Century, is as the Brits would say, quite brilliant. The staff matches that with congeniality, service and courtesy. Ahh, Courtesy, remember her? From Loreal and Joanna at the reception to the busboys, to the waiters and waitresses, to the wise-cracking Millington, the GM, to Mr. McCarty himself when he is in from Santa Monica (twice a month for a week or so at a time), the reception and service at Michael’s is not only first rate, but a pleasure.

Furthermore it is a hub of media attention. That’s why anybody would go there, at least at lunchtime in New York. That means authors, agents, columnists, publishers, bankers, studio and network heads, actors, actresses, even Caroline Kennedy from time to time. They come and go, as Mr. Eliot once wrote, “speaking of ...” New York, New York; why are we here/why we are here.

Ann Ziff with Dr. Mary Lake Bennack and Frank Bennack
I started out the evening at a cocktail reception at the penthouse apartment of Ann Ziff who was hosting it with Thomas Renyi (as Committee Chairs) and Cheryl and Philip Milstein (as Dinner Chairs) for “Lincoln Center’s Night of Dinners Celebrating Fifth Years.”

Lincoln Center came into being as part of a neighborhood urban renewal project in the late 1950s. Imagine, that was once a down-at-heels neighborhood decaying.

Today it is a great cultural campus, famous throughout the world. It serves as home for 12 arts organizations and has an enormous impact on the cultural life of the city and the country. Now the jewel has reached the age where it too needs refurbishment which is going on right now.

In May of next year, Lincoln Center will celebrate its 50th anniversary with the “spectacular” reopening of Alice Tully Hall. This December 8th, however, there will be a special sneak peek given to the patrons of Lincoln Center.
Ann Ziff, Laurie Tisch, Dolly Lenz, Cheryl Milstein, and Josie Robertson
That evening will begin with the “Dinners for the 50th Anniversary” private dinners which will be held all over town, after which guests will go to Lincoln Center for a performance by Michael Feinstein. More than 50 of these dinners are planned, hosted by prominent New Yorkers.

The Night of Dinners looks to be one of the great gala events of the autumn social season in New York.

From there I hopped a cab across the Park to the book party for Jennet Conant and her new book “The Irregulars; Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington” (published by Simon & Schuster).

The party was hosted by some of Jenny’s friends (and her husband Steve Kroft): Tavener Holmes Berry, Jennifer Maguire Isham and Chris Isham. I got there more than half way through the party (6 to 8:30) so I probably missed half the guests. Conant and Kroft are very popular in a number of social circles, but they have their friends, pals, chums, buddies, many of whom are in publishing or media or television; many of whom summer in the Hamptons.

Jennet Conant and The Irregulars. Click image to order.
They’re not exactly (entirely) the intellectual set but you could aptly call them the cognescenti of New York and the world, and the world and New York today. Among them are a lot of people who like to read, who like the arts, who lead interesting, often internationally oriented lives, as well as family lives for many; getting around, meeting people, learning more. And when they get together for a book party for a friend, it’s almost like old-home week. Not quite, of course, because there is always business.

Jenny (Jenny to her friends) Conant is a very smart woman, a journalist, reporter, historian. She’s tall and runway model lanky even after being well into motherhood (the kid’s just about a pre-teener – I think). And she’s smart. I mean Hillary Clinton type smart. Knows a lot, learns a lot, retains a lot, has the talent for clear focus. It’s a little awesome and intimidating to be around some times but I like it anyway. You learn; it’s interesting, who could resist?

This is her third book and her third book on the subject of the Second World War. It started with a book about Los Alamos and her grandfather, once a president of Harvard, James B. Conant, who was a player in the business of the development of the atom bomb. It was called “109 East Palace; Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos” and it was a big seller.

Her second book “Tuxedo Park” was about her grandfather’s role in the development of the Atom Bomb Project. It was also a hit. By then she had learned two things: books on the Second World War do very well and, the stories about its process on the American side are at her fingertip by heritage and now authority.

This book, “The Irregulars” is about Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, David Oglivy and a guy called Ivar Bryce. British they, they lit up the towns and times where they traveled, led big lives and supplied incredible intelligence and propaganda to affect the outcome of the War. Mr. Dahl later became very famous and rich writing “children’s” books like “Willie Wonka, etc.” He was probably the most financially successful writer in that genre until Mrs. Rowling came along.

Dahl married the American movie star Patricia Neal (who had just come off a highly publicized affair with Gary Cooper) and had several children. (Model Sophie Dahl is a granddaughter.) He later left Ms. Neal at the nadir of her life, for her friend whom he then married.

It was a charmed life albeit complex and not so charming at times for certain individuals in his thrall, like wife and children. Nevertheless, Dahl is a cinematic character and a kind of hero that is hard to come by. The kind that might have been played by Gary Cooper once upon a time up there on the silver screen. Evidently all of the “Irregulars” were roués and cads when it came to the girls, but brilliant and talented and charming and courageous when it came to their paths in life. But James Bond prototypes all the way. Jenny Conant lays it out and nails it even with laughs along the way.
Toni and James Goodale Jennet signing away
Mrs. Smith and son Chris Joe Armstrong and Peggy Siegal Hannah Pakula and Toni Goodale

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