Monday, November 23, 2009

A quiet New York weekend

Riverside Drive. 11:30 AM. Photo: JH.
November 23, 2009. Yesterday was sunny and bright in New York. New Yorkers were out enjoying the day. It was also the 46th anniversary of the murder of President John F. Kennedy.

This past summer I had a young intern working for me. He’s begun his freshman year in college this fall. In one of our conversations I happened to ask him if he’d ever seen any footage of JFK, particularly his press conferences. He hadn’t. Instead of describing them, I found a couple on YouTube to show him.

I remember Jack Kennedy’s public personality well although the memory had dimmed appreciably over the years. Watching the YouTube clips I was reinvigorated by his stature and his wit. Although watching him revisited the sadness of his early death. There will always be questions about how the man would have fared had he lived and served out his term. Would he have been re-elected? Would he have removed us from Viet Nam?

What we have learned about him since his death is mainly that he was a complex man, prone to frequent and probably compulsive priapic adventures, and always a charmer. What we will have never seen is the kind of leader he was promising to be and might have been. We never had the opportunity to see him develop and grow with time and age. Watching those press conferences which are rich in his scintillating self-deprecation and talent to amuse – as well as hold the floor with his authority – I felt that it was our great loss. Although never to be.
The line stretching from just inside 44th and Broadway more than halfway down the block toward the Broadhurst Theater where Jude Law is performing in "Hamlet" through December 6th.
Yesterday afternoon a friend invited me to a matinee of Jude Law in Hamlet at the Broadhurst Theater on West 44th between Broadway and Eighth. Curtain was at 3. I got out of the cab on 44th and Fifth because the traffic was so heavy, and walked the three long city blocks. Arriving on the block between Broadway and 8th, I was amazed at the long line in front of “Memphis” at the Shubert. I was rushing along, thinking I might be late, passing a line that extended more than halfway down the long block. When I got to the theater I discovered the line was waiting to get in to THIS theater. So I had to walk back a half a block to take my place.

It moved fairly quickly. I don’t recall a line like that to get into a Broadway show before. I saw Jude Law in “Indiscretions” a comedy by Jean Cocteau with a cast including Kathleen Turner, Eileen Atkins, Roger Rees and Cynthia Nixon. He was impressively energetic and it wasn’t surprising that he became a movie star not long after.
Outside the Broadhurst during intermission.
The last time I saw Hamlet was also on Broadway, with Richard Burton in the mid-1960s. He was at the height of his fame, which was his fame with Elizabeth Taylor. The show was at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre. Burton had a most compelling voice. I cannot remember the performance but I can still catch the voice in my mind’s ear. He was a deeply sympathetic character as indeed his public image seemed to be also.

Richard Burton in a limited run of "Hamlet" in 1964.
During that limited performance (as is Jude Law who is only appearing only thru December 6), every night about ten o’clock thousands of people would gather on the block between Broadway and 8th, waiting for that moment around 11 or so when Burton and Taylor would emerge from the stage door (she went to pick him up every night). By the final curtain, the entire block, pavement and roadway was jammed with thousands of fans waiting for a glimpse.

One night I happened to be in Sardi’s when word came over that Burton and Taylor were coming in after the show. By the time they arrived thousands (and I’m not exaggerating) of fans filled the block on 44th Street that I was on today, waiting for the couple to arrive at Sardis. And when they did, when they walked through the door, the entire restaurant -- customers, waiters, kitchen staff, everyone stood up to see the world’s most famous lovers, she with the violet eyes, he with the baby blues. They stood, just inside the entrance to the restaurant, unable to move in any direction, but seemingly at ease.

I recall reading a Burton diary entry years later about such a crowd happening to him and her outside the Ritz in Paris where the entire Place Vendome was chock-a-block masses of fans waiting to gawk and gape. It blew his mind that they were waiting for a glimpse of him and Elizabeth. He knew about the fame, but still, it was more than astounding to the little Welsh boy with the golden voice.

Jude Law yesterday seemed much younger and neurasthenic a Hamlet than Richard Burton. We had very good seats about eighth row center. Law is the star on the stage. He just has it. And he’s very angry. I am not an apt critic for Shakespeare, let alone Hamlet. I am in awe of the actors and most specifically the lead. The audience loved Jude Law. His youthfulness and contemporariness makes him very relatable. There were a lot of twenty- and thirty-somethings in the audience and taking their places in Standing Room.

Shakespeare’s not getting old more than four centuries later, because of actors like Jude Law. And Richard Burton.

While we're on the subject of recalling the stupendous, Late last week, a woman who was a contemporary of Jack Kennedy and probably knew him at some point, Frances Brody, died last Thursday in Los Angeles at her home in Holmby Hills.

Under the radar, publicity-wise, Mrs. Brody was a well known and popular figure in Los Angeles and the world of her era.

Frances, always known as Francie, was a formidable presence in that exotic society out by the Pacific. She was a good example of the Southern California version of a grande dame. She had wit, certainty, taste, curiosity, hauteur (when necessary) and the ambition to make herself known and heard on her terms. That stern countenance would also transform into a merry face with amusement. She liked people, and they liked her.

Frances Brody. Photo: LA Times.
She was born in Chicago, the daughter of Albert Lasker who is now largely unknown but was to advertising in the 20th Century what Henry Ford was to automobiles. Mr. Lasker was famous for having created the idea of what we now call Brands. It made him a tycoon and a shaman of American popular culture. Later on in life he married a second wife, Mary Lasker, who became a major figure of society and philanthropy in New York. Our gentrified islands that run up the middle of Park Avenue are beauteous thanks to the vision and philanthropy of Mary Lasker.

Francie Brody and her husband Sidney – a tall, outgoing fellow with a kind and jolly personality, were major forces in the art scene. During the mid-20th century, from the 1930s on, some of the most important private art collections in America were being built in Los Angeles. Many were movie people, many others were business people. The Brodys socialized in both crowds comfortably and often brought them together.

In the 1950s they hired the Los Angeles architect Quincy Jones to design what the LA Times has called a white stucco “modernist masterpiece.” Billie Haines did the interior. The house had a courtyard atrium which was visible just inside the entrance hall. In it there were outdoor chairs and couches with end tables and lamps, and on one wall, discreetly dominating the entire space was a large Matisse mural, 12x11 ceramic tile. The Brodys had commissioned it from the painter in 1953. Aside from the brilliance of the piece, its presence in an environment where there were Matisses hanging in several houses in the general area spoke volumes about its proud possessor. A Matisse painted especially for you and your house and to be hung outside!. Francie Brody and her husband Sidney were clever collectors. And they enjoyed it.

The story around Los Angeles always was that Francie Brody turned down the original Matisse maquette, a paper cut-out. This turned out to be true. She knew what she wanted and the artist provided it.

Another story that was popularly repeated about her was that when she was a young girl her mother told her that she’d never be a beauty so she’d better make sure she looked good.

She was, what the French would call, a belle laide. Always smartly dressed with an austere chic that Los Angeles women of that era could do glamorously. Because of her background, she had interest in and access to culture and society on both coasts all her life. She was a contemporary of JFK but of that era that will be defined in terms of the political career of Ronald Reagan. Many people around the Brodys were major supporters of Ronald Reagan. Many of those women defined the style that was “worldly” Los Angeles of that era.

Women of her set in Los Angeles lived by a certain standard. It was a style set by the second generation of the movie colony – wives and daughters of the studio moguls – who imitated the style that was New York in the 1930s through the 1950s.

Betsy Bloomingdale,
a friend and neighbor of Francie Brody, is now the popular example of that standard in a Los Angeleno, but it was de rigueur for many. A big house, well-managed, a staff, a good garden (for flowers) or greenhouse, often important art collections, an excellent chef, a beautifully set table, interesting dinner guests (including almost always, major movie stars and/or industry executives, directors, producers).

Easterners were always treated to the best of Lotusland. On the night he was nominated for the Presidency, Jack Kennedy went to an after party at Jean Howard’s hacienda style house on Coldwater, where Judy Garland sang and Roger Edens played and all kinds of glamour girls and boys of this ilk partied the night away.

Mrs. Brody didn’t look like the kind of woman you might see at a party of movie stars. But she was. She was also at home in the more tycoonish crowds of the great industrialists and real estate magnates who owned Southern California.

The collection she and her husband acquired included Braque, Henry Moore, Degas, Dufy, Renoir, Rodin, Calder, Chagall and of course Matisse. Their house had the space for everything to be displayed while not depriving a homeliness. It was large but not uncozy. Rather like its mistress’ personality.

She looked stern, and she could be stern-ish. She was knowledgeable and exacting. She also loved wit and amusing people. She and her husband were major movers in the launch of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in the mid-60s. She was a force, as well as a trustee of the Huntington Library.

About ten years ago, in an interview in Town & Country, she told her version of that “belle laide” anecdote about her looks. “When I was fourteen, I had bushy black hair and I said to myself, ‘Well, you’re not going to be any beauty, so you’d better just be yourself and have a good time.’ And I did.”

Friday night down at Indochine, they were celebrating their 25th anniversary as the laid back chic and casual go-to destination for the rich, the chic and the shameless not to mention the hip, the pips, the art crowd, the rockers and the movie stars.

They all go there because they love the place.

And they love the place because they love the food and all that comes with it in terms of atmosphere, great drinks, a flashy passing scene, and The Food.

So, co-owners Jean-Marc Houmard, Michael Callahan and Huy Chi Le staged a “1920s Shanghai” bash. It started at 9 pm and like the invitation read, it ran til “late.” And they were all there, taking it all in, the passing parade and the trays of the Indochine gourmet celebration.
Bonnie Morrison and Genevieve Jones flanked by dancers.
Tory Burch and Lyor Cohen
Carlos de Souza and Byrdie Bell
Billy Farrell
Huy Chi Le and Jean-Marc Houmard
Stephen Gan, Cecilia Dean, and James Kaliardos
Zac Posen
Kate Shelter
Chiara Clemente
Padma Lakshmi
Anita Sarko and Patrick McDonald
Bernard Aiden and Catherine Malandrino
Hamish Bowles
Lily Donaldson and Rachel Chandler
Ursula Damani and Anuschka Senge
Johan Lindeberg
Kenny Scharf
Alison Sarofim
Helen Shifter and Nicole Miller
Yvonne Force Villareal and Bonnie Young
Donna D'Cruz
Ellen von Unwerth
Heinz Haas
Richard Pandiscio
Jim Shi
Steven Greenberg
Alison Pill and Sean MacPhearson
John Ortbeb and Ursula Damani
Todd Eberle and Lady Fag
Stefano Tonchi
Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld
Andre Balazs
Scott Campbell
Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber
Gabi and Ange
Glenn O'Brien
Jeffrey Padolvski and Milli Cabrel
Natalie Kill and Sante D'Orazio
Samantha Mathis and Hunter Hill
Bonnie Young, Mickey Boardman, and Yvonne Force Villareal
Rosie Perez
Lauren Ezersky
Ann Dexter-Jones
Linda Fargo
Kate Shelter and Chris Schumacher
Irina Movmyga and Andres Serrano
James Cooke and Poppy De Villeneuve
Last Thursday night, down on the corner of Bowery and Grand in the beautiful and vaulted halls of Capitale, which was, once upon a time -- as attendees were reminded more than once throughout the evening -- the French-American Foundation held its annual fund-raising gala dinner.

The foundation, which promotes Franco-American relations and conducts programs in leadership, defense, culture, and social policy, honored Carlos Ghosn with the Benjamin Franklin Award and Ambassador Arthur Hartman with the Vergennes Achievement Award.
Kate Snow pointing to her husband.
Kate Snow, of Good Morning America and ABC News, presided as emcee. The gorgeous beaux arts architecture of the building attributed to Stanford White, set the stage for the evening. The silent auction featured a Francois-Paul Jorne watch and a guided tour of Le Hague ("France's Preeminent Nuclear Reprocessing Site"), and the raffle injected a note of levity into what could have otherwise been a political evening.

The presence of no less than five American Ambassadors (Felix Rohatyn, Craig Stapleton, and honoree Arthur Hartman to France, James Lowenstein to Luxembourg, and Ambassador-at-large Richard Fairbanks) having served under administrations spanning Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as the consulate general from France to New York, Philippe Lalliot, and His Excellency the French Ambassador to the United States Pierre Vimont, the ambiance of the evening slipped between a party and a political summit as quickly as guests changed languages.
"Mais, Sarkozy? Parfait!" was overheard on one side of the room, while "Barney Frank is undoing our legislation!" was bemoaned on the other.

When the bar ran out of champagne glasses, a dejected French couple turned away from the bar, while a man from South Carolina heartily accepted Veuve Clicqout in a highball. Le Marseilles and The Star-Spangled Banner were sung as guests dined on the Duck Confit, Poached Pear, and Atlantic Char.

The French chocolate which was going to be served with dinner was, in fact, stolen. "I guess that makes it hot chocolate," joked Ambassador Lowenstein before presenting the award to Ambassador Hartman, also mentioning at one point that it isn't wise to "look a gift cheval in la bouche."
Phoebe Legere sings Edith Piaf. Design on Ms. Winson's stocking.
Ambassador Hartman, after mentioning that his grandmother invested money beneath the stunningly coffered ceiling of the Bowery Bank, said that his father told his friends that his son became the Ambassador to France because he "went to Harvard and turned left."

The most insightful commentary, however, was from Ambassador Vimont who warned that we must not allow complacency in the Franco-American relationship, warning that "our influence -- our power --- will diminish."

I deferred repeatedly to Dana Peters, a handsome young Frenchman named Tibalt, and Eve de la Mothe Karoubi, a relative of Antoine de St. Exupery, on all questions French -- a service for which Miss Karoubi was rendered payment by winning Tiffany cufflinks in the raffle.
After dinner, Phoebe Legere played the accordion, and sang three iconic Edith Piaf songs (La Vie en Rose, L'Accordeoniste, and Sous La Ciel de Paris).

Also Honored were Claude Grunitzky and Roy Katzovicz, while John Paulson, John Thain, Elizabeth Fondaras, Chiu-Ti Jansen, Suzie Winson, Jean-Francois Saval, and Patricia Carreras attended.

"Absolument parfait!" one woman said, as the black tie crowd was descending the steps of Capitale, back onto the streets of New York. — TS for NYSD
Suzie Winson and Matilde Guidelli-Guidi. Ambassador Craig Stapleton, Joyce Cowin, and Ben Stapleton.
Jean-Francois Serval and Patricia Carreras. Roy Katzovicz, Claude Grunitzky, and Richard Wayner.
Ambassador Pierre Vimont. Dana Peters. Chiu-ti Liu Jansen.
Ambassador James Lowenstein, Kate Snow, and Ambassador Arthur Hartman. Mr. and Mrs. John Thain.
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