Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ready for Spring

Central Park monitoring. 10:30 PM. Photo: JH.
March 24. What’s this the fourth day of Spring? The third? Whatever, I’m ready for it. I take the new Geithner plan -- which is far too complicated for me to understand so that I can have a prospective on it -- and hope it’s good like Spring.

The blue plate special on everybody’s lips today in New York was Marie Douglas-David whom the New York Post headline today referred to as the $100 million dollar divorcee (who) “dishes on tycoon hubby.”

That’s what everyone was talking about. You know they’re not going to talk about the Geithner plan because there isn’t a one of them who has a clue what that’s all about.
Mrs. Douglas-David is said to be a Swedish countess; beautiful, thirty-eight or so. Her businessman husband is sixty-six or so, old enough to be referred to by the thirteen year olds in the press as “elderly.”

But who knows? Maybe that was real problem back at the Douglas-David home and hearth. Anyway, it was such a story but more about that later.
The trees of blooming witch hazel just inside Carl Schurz Park at Gracie Square and East End Avenue.
First the day. Cold but sunny morning. Impatient to get things moving, I went down the block and took another picture of the yellow flowering trees behind the fence of Carl Schurz Park. For years I’ve been thinking they were forsythia. No. Not. A kind and keen reader, having seen my initial closeup shot of the buds told me they were witch hazel. Yes they didn’t look like forsythia.

Today in the bright sunlight many were about to burst in bloom. I took a picture. My offering to the gods of nature.

Rosalyn Menon and Alex Weininger, from the CNN Campbell Brown production team.
Late in the afternoon, a producer from CNN named Alex Weininger called and asked if she could speak to me about Marie Douglas-David, the countess. It’s funny, she looks more like a girl from the Midwest or Southern California.

Ms. Weininger asked me what I thought of Mrs. Douglas-David’s divorce suit against her husband (or is it vice-versa). She mentioned yesterday’s Post where Mrs. D-D was interviewed by Andrea Peyser, a news columnist who is not exactly hearts and flowers when assessing the players in the circus. Ms. Peyser can be brutal to put it lightly. However, she was pretty gentle with the countess.

At six CNN sent a car to take me over to the studio. I met Ms. Weininger and Ms. Menon. They took me to make-up, had a little powder daubed on my face. Then off to the studio where I was seated behind a desk in front of a large camera with a lot of lights on me.

Ms. Weininger stood where I was supposed to look. They plugged an audio piece in my good ear. Suddenly I heard a male voice identifying himself as >>>>> (I couldn’t quite hear him), and telling me he was in Atlanta. It’s weird being interviewed in a dark room by a voice while being expected to respond to a person (which is the camera). He asked me what I thought about the Douglas-David divorce and the countess’s quest for more millions.

I told him this kind of stuff goes on a lot among the rich. I can think of four other marriages in New York in the process of ending and settling up. In the end it’s all about the money. So much so that it’s easy to think that’s all it was ever about. Although I know that when these things begin, it seems like something else. And maybe is. Ten minutes of that on camera, and that was it.

William D. Cohan holding his latest, House of Cards; A Tale of Hubris and wretched Excess On Wall Street. Click to order.
From the Time-Warner Center I went over to the apartment of Jeffrey Leeds in the East 50s on the River, for a book party. The guest of honor: William D. Cohan and his House of Cards; A Tale of Hubris and wretched Excess On Wall Street, the story of the financial meltdown and destruction of Bear Stearns.

Mr. Cohan knows his subject. He published a book last year about Lazard Freres called The Last Tycoons; the Secret History of Lazard Freres & Co. I read it (I’d forgotten but Mr. Cohan reminded me last night that I had also written about it on the Diary). It was a great history of a Wall Street firm, its politics and personalities, all heavily garnished with the systemic greed and venality that comes with being immersed in the business of money. The nittay-grittay of the dollah boys. And girls.

Coincidentally, Marie Douglas-David used to work for Lazard as an investment banker. No offense. Or so I’m told. In fact, one of her beefs about marrying Mr. D-D is that if she’d just stayed single and worked on Wall Street, she could have made a lot of money anyway. So there.

Mr. Cohan’s Lazard book ruffled a few feathers. He’s nothing if not detailed about things. He used to work in the investment banking business with both Lazard and JP Morgan and he’s a first-rate investigative reporter (He told me last night he does it all himself.)

Understanding how it works on Wall Street, in my opinion, is understanding how it works Wherever. The object of power is money and vice versa. This is borne out by the pickle we’re in right now in the world. Even the pickle the Swedish countess is in.
Cohan’s new book has got rave reviews, and no wonder. These are the real new society chronicles. From the book jacket:

The author deftly portrays larger-than-life personalities like Ace Greenberg, Bear Stearns miserly, take-no-prisoners chairman, whose memos about re-using paper clips were legendary throughout Wall Street; his profane, colorful rival and eventual heir, Jimmy Cayne, whose world-champion-level bridge skills were a lever in his corporate rise and became a symbol of the reasons for the firm’s demise ...
William D. Cohan and Ellen Futter Ellen Futter and her daughter, Libby Shutkin
Mr. Cohan’s dish is great but greatly enhanced by his ability to explain the complexities and intricacies of these bizarre trading instruments like Credit Default Swaps and tranches and Credit Debt Obligations, and Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan.

And why should you care? Because they’ve got your money, that’s why. And like my colleague Ms. Peyser, that’s putting it lightly. Because they can be brutal. Read the book.

Mr. Leeds, who co-hosted the party with Thomas Lister, also a friend of the author, has a great view of the East River, the FDR, Roosevelt Island and Queens and Brooklyn and Long Island. At that hour – 7 in the evening with the sunset casting its last light, the city is majestic and awesome in all it offers and implies even visually.
The crowd at Jeffrey Leeds' apartment.
View from above looking northeast toward the Queensboro Bridge, over Roosevelt Island toward Queens and Long Island. The lone tower on the right is the Citigroup building.
View to the southeast, with the FDR Drive north and south, from the tip of Roosevelt Island down to the Williamsburg Bridge and Wall Street beyond.
I also learned that William Cohan is the brother-in-law of Ellen Futter, the President of the American Museum of Natural History. Ms. Futter, as you’ve read here, is one of the most distinguished women in New York, a former university president, a lawyer, a scholar, a mother, a sister and a friend. She is one of those people who is known for her title but in fact behind that is a leader, an influence in the community and the greater community. She has the presence of someone professorial. Her bearing however, is unassuming, although I’m sure she is well aware of her abilities and her power. It’s about the getting the job done, progressing, that is the objective.

Harold Ford and Jeffrey Leeds
Mr. Cohan is married to Ellen Futter’s sister. Later, as I was leaving I met Libby Shutkin, who turned out to be Ellen Futter’s daughter. Having finished undergrad and working for a non-profit, Libby is about to start Law School at Columbia. I naturally perceived the young girl as smart -- like her mother. Her mother was very proud of her. Like a mother.

Just as I was about to get in the elevator, Harold Ford, the former Congressman from Tennessee who is now Vice-Chairman of Merrill Lynch was getting out. Harold is from Tennessee but grew up much of his life in Washington where his father was the Congressman from Tennessee for years. He now lives here in New York. I went back into the apartment for a brief chat and picture of him with the host.

By the time I left the Leeds apartment
it was too late to make my last stop which was down in the 20s at the James Cohan Gallery for the “Scad Style Etoile Gala” and the Etoile Awards presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design to Amanda Burden, Robin Givhan, Cornelia Guest, William Ivey Long and Russell Simmons. I don’t know if this Mr. Cohan is related to that Mr. Cohan. But more on this event later in the week.

I got home in time to see the CNN interview about the Douglas-Davids’ divorce. However, my TV had no signal and Time-Warner will have to send someone over today to fix it. I found out from JH who saw it, that the ten or so minutes was edited down to 20 seconds and a couple of quotes. That is how they work on formulaic television. It’s the only way they can keep a schedule. They think.

What surprised me about my interviewer’s questions was the naivete about marriages and divorces among the very rich, not only in New York but anywhere. This particular couple have an age difference of three decades. There’s nothing wrong with that per se but in many cases it does not auger well for a variety of reasons, and all of them human.

It is also well known in this society that when a younger woman marries a much older man who is rich, money plays a significant part. Duh. You can romanticize all you like but this corn is not green.

It is also well known that if a woman who is not rich marries a man who is rich (or vice versa), even if they are contemporaries, money plays a big role. Because wherever there is a lot of money, there is a big role. Right Mr. Geithner?

Marie Douglas-David and George David
That said, there are millions of examples throughout history down to today where all of the aforementioned factors have come together to make successful alliances and marriages.

The Douglas-Davids did not have one of them. Why is she asking for more than her allotted post-nup $36 million. Who knows? Everyone wants more if they think they can get it. That’s what Wall Street is all about, no?

Whatever the story, what’s been laid out in public is the folly of our private selves. This is the private life of an attractive looking couple of who lived in a $25 million dollar Park Avenue triplex where according to the divorcing wife, the air was fraught with uncertainty (his), volatile temperaments (his), issues about having a baby (his first — then hers) and a lot of the Tell-me-that-you-love-me-oh-you-did-now-beat-it-will-you?” Blues. (thanks to Mr. Sondheim).

Mrs. Douglas-David feels she has to fight for what she thinks is fair from the man she married seven years ago when she was thirty-ish and he was almost sixty. I first met them about that time at a dinner party here in Manhattan. Very pleasant people, she is a great natural beauty, and he looked every inch the urbane chief executive officer, perfectly cast.

You could have convinced me then that she admired and married him for all those things which resulted in wealth and power, and he married her because she was smart, and beautiful and appreciated his good points. Falttery will get you everywhere sometimes. Next stop: the yellow brick road to happily-ever-after-land.

These are the aphrodisiacs of this age and maybe all ages. The problem with aphrodisiacs is eventually they lose their luster, and it all comes down to who's gonna pay the check. And what’s $36 million in the land of trillions?
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