Monday, November 30, 2009

Beautiful chilly Thanksgiving weekend in New York

Looking east towards the Empire State Building from 11th Avenue and 36th Street. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
November 30, 2009. Beautiful chilly Thanksgiving weekend in New York which was very quiet except for midtown – Fifth Avenue, and the Times Square area.

The big news for Americans over the long holiday weekend was, of course was about the gatecrashers at the Obamas’ first White House State Dinner. Carol Joynt has the skinny on that on today’s Washington Social Diary.

Then there was Tiger Woods’ Thanksgiving, which ended rather badly and somewhat mysteriously. I say “somewhat” because the world now knows he had a fling with someone and when his wife found out it looks like she chased the guy down the street with one of his golf clubs. We will probably never really know what happened (nor do we need to know), although it sounds very much like a holiday dinner incident marred by temper, rancor and wrangling. Many of us know about those kinds of holiday dinners now, don’t we?

And then of course, in the world, there was Dubai and its announcement that it would not be meeting some of its Dubai World debt obligations (due in early December). NYSD readers may remember that JH and I were guests of the Abu Dhabi government for its “Festival of Thinkers” two years ago this past October.
The road from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, October 2007.
The entire visit was astounding because of what the Emiratis had done with their oil-rich, arid desert sands on the Persian Gulf. You can see for yourself (Arrival in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Dreams, Abu Dhabi, Festival of Thinkers, Dubai for the day). It was during that trip that we hired a car one day to visit its next door neighbor: Dubai. That was even more astounding considering what those men had built on those desert sands.

I recall the two hour drive along the palm tree-lined six (or was it eight) lane highway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. For many many miles (the distance between the two cities is about 75 miles), there was nothing but flat desert sands as far as the eye could see on both sides of the roadway. And then: as we drew closer to Dubai, the towers suddenly emerged from the dusty desert floor – skyscrapers, dozens of them, maybe scores, maybe hundreds, many of which were accompanied by the multi-storey construction cranes, almost lifelike in their plumage-less heron images. I recall counting 26 such cranes along just one mile of highway.
The towers arising out of the desert on the road to Dubai, October 2007.
JH and I were both in awe – agog is more like it – and it occurred to both of us at the same time that we were witnessing the creation of immense, even foolhardy construction over capacity. You couldn’t help asking: who is going to live here?

However, that same year on a Sunday morning, he and drove around Manhattan for a couple hours photographing the new construction and stopped after we photographed sixty or seventy.

In its fashion Dubai was to commercial construction
in the 21st century what Sutter’s Creek was to the Gold Rush in California in 1849. Feverish and fantastic and over the top, to put it mildly. But the stuff of fairy tales and a thousand and one nights. Nevertheless as you can see if you look at our dispatches from that time, you can understand the fever that affected individuals, governments, and their banks.
Closer to the city.
On Thanksgiving Day afternoon around a quarter to four I went down to the Four Seasons restaurant to meet my old friends David and Helen Gurley Brown and their old friend Charlotte Kelly for our annual repast.

History making: Charlotte first met Helen when she went to work in the Los Angeles office of Foote, Cone and Belding. Helen at the time was the secretary to Don Belding, and Charlotte was hired to help Helen with the filing (remember filing? Maybe not). Mr. Cone and Mr. Foote ran the Chicago and New York offices, respectively. All three men started out in the business working for Albert Lasker and his agency Lord & Thomas in Chicago. Mr. Lasker, who was really the founder of modern advertising , was also the father of Francie Brody whose passing in Los Angeles was marked here on these pages last week.
The Christmas trees in front of the Seagram's Building, Sunday, 6:30 pm. Photo: DPC.
David Brown at the time was working for Darryl Zanuck as story editor at 20th Century Fox Studios. This was before he and Helen Gurley got together. Before that he had been the very successful story editor at a Hearst magazine called Cosmopolitan. It was when he was there that he bought a novelette from a writer named Ernie Lehman called “Sweet Smell of Success,” a roman a clef about Broadway columnist Walter Winchell.

Winchell, almost completely forgotten today, wrote a daily column in Hearst’s New York Daily Mirror as well as its syndicate. Unknown now maybe, Walter Winchell had thirty million readers a day, and this was back when the population of the country was about 150 million, less than half of what it is today. Couldn’t resist that bit of detail.

David Brown and Helen Gurley Brown
Ernest Lehman then sold his story to Burt Lancaster and his production company partners and the rest is history. David Brown, a half century later, produced the Broadway musical version of the story that he loved. He knew Winchell too. Ernest Lehman later went on to direct many successful films including “The Sound of Music.”

Years after he left Fox, David Brown and Helen Gurley came up with a new idea for a magazine which they sold to Hearst which was retiring its Cosmopolitan title, and turned it into the bonanza it remains today. Even later, he joined forces with Darryl Zanuck’s son Richard and produced a number of successful films beginning with one called “Jaws.”

The Four Seasons is always full on the Thanksgiving holiday. And the Browns always have the same table in the pool room (next to the pool). It’s a real New York crowd – families, friends and families, couples, groups. They roll the turkey right up to your table and carve it before you, giving you your choice of the meat.

On Friday, after Thanksgiving, Liz Smith and Cynthia McFadden gave a brunch at Osteria del Circo (120 West 55th Street) for about a dozen friends including Cynthia's son Spencer Hoge as well as her friends' kids, after everyone (except this writer) took in the Holiday Show with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Three courses beginning with the exquisite pizza (very thin crust), spaghetti in tomato sauce and then your choice of a main course (I had more pizza). Yum. Even Sirio, the indefatigable came over from Le Cirque to check up on us. After that I went home to take a nap and I'm sure everyone else did too.

Meanwhile, that morning was the legendary Macy’s Day parade beginning on Central Park West. Our friend, artist and children’s book illustrator (Blackie, The Horse That Stood Still) Paige Peterson gives a pre-parade get together the night before at her Central Park West apartment.

It’s a real family do. Most of the young people who attend met at the Trinity School when they could barely walk, and many of them have stayed close, as have their parents. The first year Paige had this party, after the dinner and the dancing, everyone was astonished to see the Macy’s floats passing by her windows (she’s on the third floor).
John and Joan Jakobson Orla Healy, Monie Begley, and Dr. Doug Steinbrech
Graciana del Castillo, Georgia Shreve, and Grethe Holby Elgort Jane Friedman and David Peterson
David Kleinberg, Jeff Sharp, and Peter Cary Peterson Brianna Geist with Jack
Mark Santangelo and Naomi Bishop Heidi, Brianna, Devon, and Joe Geist
Peter Cary Peterson and Jon Ortner Naomi Bishop and Sophie Elgort
Warren Elgort, Matias del Castillo, and Peter Cary Peterson Michael Heumann and Marc Antonio Mei
Ansel Elgort Nicholas Wapshott and Louise Nicholson Lola Touzet and Jack
Carolina Zapf and John Josephson Dr. Doug Steinbrech with father, brother and nephew
David and Alexandra Peterson with Peter Brown Dominique, Alister, and Chloe Kirby
Doug and Victoria Leeds Ginger Brown, Alexandra Peterson, and Katrina vanden Heuvel
Alexandra Peterson and Gaspar del Castillo Harrison Hurt and Pat Birch Becker
Mothers and sons Alison Becker
Michael and Lisa Schultz Annabel Kaufman, Anna Strasberg, Ally Lebow, Paige Peterson, and David Lewis at the piano
Then on Thanksgiving Day many congregated at Peter Brown’s apartment a few blocks to the south to watch the parade, after which they move down to Anna Strasberg’s for a Thanksgiving feast which inevitably ends with everyone congregated around the piano singing show tunes while David Lewis tickles the ivories.
On the street ...
The Geist and Peterson cousins arrive at Peter Brown's.
It’s all citylife family style and as Paige says: “It is the best of the holidays. It is about being together. Just supporting, laughing, sharing, singing, gossiping, nurturing and loving each other. And then to top it off, Friday night is always at Elaine’s. The rest of the weekend we just simply try to recover.”
On the way to Peter Brown's. Brianna, Heidi, Devon and Joe Geist with cousin Peter Cary Peterson Brianna Geist, Paige Peterson, Devon and Heidi Geist on the balcony
Paige Peterson and Carolina Zapf Peter Brown, Devon and Joe Geist, Peter Cary, and Paige Peterson
Clockwise from top left: Sophie, Nicholas and Lily Josephson, and Brianna Geist; Paige Peterson, Devon and Heidi Geist; Peter Brown watches from his balcony.
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