Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A hot summer day was the first day of summer in New York

Lasker Pool in Central Park. 4:30 PM. Photo: JH.
June 22, 2010. A hot summer day was the first day of summer in New York.

I decided as soon as I woke, having no lunch appointment, to make it a vacation day. Sort of. I had a mid-afternoon meeting and some spots to hit in the early evening. It is quieter in New York right now but there is still a lot of social activity.

Over at the NASDAQ Building at Broadway and 43rd, there was a cocktail party to “celebrate Broadway and the Broadway Walk of Stars,” taking a page from Hollywood Boulevard in L.A. I think Arlene Dahl who was one of last night’s honorary chairs, is getting a star on this walk. Other honorary chairs were Liza with a Z, Joan Rivers, Tommy Tune, Michael Feinstein, LeeRoy Reams, Kelsey Grammer and Doug Hodge. Co-chairs were Bob and Barbara Taylor Bradford, Anita Jaffe, Stanley Zareff, Annette Green, Muriel Seibert, George Kaufman, Carole Holmes McCarthy (Arlene Dahl’s daughter), Dick Moore, Marc Rosen (Arlene’s husband) and Donald Saddler.

I didn’t make it and I’ll tell you why in a minute, but I know a good time was had by all. I know this because looking over the list, many of these people are friends and see each other or share mutual friends here in New York. I’d bet they’ve all spent many a dinner or cocktail or weekend, in the company everyone named. That’s why New York can feel like a small town in a great big place.

Susan Isaacs with a copy of As Husbands Go: A Novel. Click to order.
Larry Ashmead and one of his legions of admirers at a reception given for him on his retirement in 2003.
Seeing Susan Isaacs. I started out at a floral design shop on First Avenue between 51st and 52nd called ZeZe. It was a book signing for Susan Isaacs and her 12th novel , As Husbands Go, (Scribner). I’d met her several times before. Thinking about her personality and her productivity, I was reminded of Linda Fairstein. I told her this when we met and she told me they were very good friends. These are remarkable people. Not high energy but Big energy.

I met Susan through our mutual friend Larry Ashmead of HarperCollins. Larry signed me to a book deal there at the same time he was publishing Susan’s “After All These Years.” I hadn’t read her before and presumed her books were basically contemporary “women’s” novels. I may be right to a book salesperson, but I picked up the book (which Larry had sent to me) to have a look, and was transported by the voice immediately. I read the book straight through in a couple of days.

Back to last night. Later on, as I was heading home in a taxi, again I opened up this new one, As Husbands Go. Again, the title did not intrigue my senses. But I started the first page. She sets you up right away. What it is, is the voice. With Susan Isaacs you feel like you’re listening to someone whom you already know quite well, and the story she is telling is hers.

Of course you know that’s not true. You think you know. I’m not sure.

Back to our mutual friend, the editor Larry Ashmead. Larry was probably a more frequent guest at Michael’s than even I. Until he retired a few years ago I saw him there two or three times a week.

I had met him through Kitty Kelley whom I met when she was in Los Angeles researching her Frank Sinatra biography. She introduced us through the mail.

In those days, with little work and a compulsive need to sit in front of the keyboard and air my Sturm und Drang, I often wrote letters to friends.

I started writing Larry about life in L.A. including impressions and stories I’d heard about a variety of characters including well-known industry types and movie stars. He’d send me, in reply, funny little postcards and newly published books.
The display at ZeZe Floral Design, scene of Susan Isaacs booksigning -- the main female character is a floral designer.
A few years later after I’d finished Debbie Reynolds’ autobiography, I went to the American Book Fair with her where she was making a book signing appearance. Several people came up to me and introduced themselves, complimenting me on my “writing.” I wasn’t sure what they were referring to because Debbie’s book was the only thing I’d published and it was brand new. And besides, although I wrote it, it was her voice. So oddly, I never felt I wrote it. Finally I asked one woman what she was referring to – my “writing.”

“Oh, those great letters from Hollywood that you write to Larry!”
The author signing to DPC.
Oh gawd. Naming names and everything; not to mention too hot to print gossip. Of course all these years later they’d read like kindergarten for what goes on on the internet. At first I was mortified, and because I never made copies of the letters (this was before I owned a computer), I couldn’t remember whom I had written about. Hollywood is a land rife with carnal knowledge and supporting excessive egos, not to mention bad habits and utter desperation. The creative community is always a drama onto itself. Add to that, Hollywood is still the Dream Factory of the American culture, and there’s always a flip side of that.

I got over the embarrassment. Also, no one else ever told me they’d read those letters, so it may be it was just those whom I met at the book fair.
Lewis Frumkes, Susan Isaacs, and Elkan Abramowitz. Mary Higgins Clark.
Larry Ashmead was an editor that young aspiring (and naïve) writers dream about back in their hometowns far from the city lights. He was one of those men who just loves writers and their words. He loves to get to know people through their words. He loves the stories. He revels in them. And has a wicked sense of humor to go along with it.

Meanwhile. Back at Zeze floral design. Susan signed my book. I took a picture of her and Elkan and Lewis Frumkes who had literally just walked in the door. I took a few more pictures of the room. Zeze also owns a restaurant around the corner on East 52nd Street just up from the River House. It’s small and informal, brick walls and stylish in a kind of rough hewn chic sort of way.

All the aforementioned thoughts were crossing/had crossed my mind as I was photographing the flowers, and so I decided to leave.
The venerable theatre school, the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, a legacy from the great days of the American theatre. Originally founded as an off-Broadway theater by the two copper heiresses, Alice and Irene Lewisohn, in 1928 it opened as a theatre school. Sanford Meisner joined the faculty in 1935 from the Group Theatre. He used the acting methods of Konstantin Stanislavski of the Moscow Art Theatre to develop his own technique, which rivaled Lee Strasburg's Method acting.
At about 7:30 it was very warm on First Avenue. Looking for a cab I walked up a couple of blocks. I realized I hadn’t walked around in this part of town in years, but only driven through on my way home.

On East 53rd and First on the northwest corner is a luncheonette. It’s changed hands and been refurbished more than once, but it’s the same place where I used to hang out with the other students when I was at the Neighborhood Playhouse in the mid-60s.

The sign hanging off the Neighborhood Playhouse.
And around the corner was the Neighborhood Playhouse. I hadn’t been by it in many years. I couldn’t be sure it was still there. It was. Two old brownstones merged decades ago.

Sanford Meisner was the school’s director when I was there. He was venerated by his students and in theatre lore, still is. He was not, shall we say, sympathetic toward toward this awkwardly aspiring actor. He could be cruel with his words, and although he never was to me, his outbursts served as a warning to anyone uncertain about him or herself.

He seemed to enjoy those sessions in class when he could let someone have it. That’s not atypical in acting classes and not necessarily unwarranted. But his own dramatic performances were probably best in those rooms under those circumstances where he was relaxed and in control. As well as tormented in some way.

He had not made stardom as an actor although he came out of the Group Theatre and was a member of that most historically august ensemble. If there were a rival for him, it was Lee Strasberg. Their influence on more than a generation of American actors was very great. There were stars who’d been to the Neighborhood Playhouse like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Tony Randall, and they’ve continued to turn out important theatrical talent all through the decades. Then there were others, like this writer, who knew enough to get out while the going was good. Sandy Meisner’s approach to teaching, it turned out, was salient for me.

Among its illustrious alumni are: Eli Wallach, Mary Steenburgen, Suzanne Pleshette, Joanne Woodward, Darren McGavin, Leslie Nielsen, Grace Kelly, Diane Keaton, Anne Jackson, David Mamet, Jeff Goldblum, Lee Grant, Sydney Pollack, Gregory Peck, Marian Seldes, Griffin Dunne, Robert Duvall, Sandra Bullock, James Caan, Keir Dullea.
Having taken the photograph I looked around trying to recall how it had changed. Up the block were two landmarks that were not there at the time. The Lipstick Building on Third Avenue the Citigroup Building one block west. Right across the street from the Playhouse was the last version of El Morocco, the nightclub. That was really another world to this wide-eyed kid.
Looking west on 54th Street toward Philip Johnson's "lipstick" building and the Citigroup tower behind.
Many friends and collectors came from New York and abroad as well as London for the opening of Billy Rayner’s exhibition of water colors at Mallett’s on New Bond Street, London. The pictures were beautifully installed and illuminated in Mallett’s elegant surroundings.

The exhibition entitled ‘Caravans’ showed images from Philae and Istanbul to Udaipur and Samarkand.

Among the guests: Sir Evelyn and Lady de Rothschild, Alfred and Judy Taubman, Princess Mimi Romanov, Dame Jillian Sackler, Andrew and Denise Saul, Celia Weinstock, Pat Cook and Robert Nederlander, Virginia Coleman, Peter Duchin, Ambassador John and Irini Danilovich, Catherine Cahill and Bill Bernhard, Count and Countess di Robilant, Stephen Mazoh, Tom Quick, Raul Suarez and Jenny Churchill were all admiring the pictures with Giles Hutchinson-Smith, CEO of Mallett.
William and Katharine Rayner. Dorrit Moussaieff.
Anne Cox Chambers, Kathy Rayner’s mother, flew in from Provence with Molly Butick and Bradley Larder along with Catherine and Bradley Geist. Alireza Ittihadieh and Irja Brandt were spotted snapping up a prize picture of Tamerlane’s Tomb in Samarkand. Andrew Mack, son of Ambassador Earle and Carol Mack selected a beautiful tropical scene for his collection. Princess Susan Pignatelli looked fabulous in an embroidered coat from India – perfect for the occasion.

After the exhibition many guests were taken by pedicab to Bellamy’s in Bruton Place. Guests were greeted by the owner Gavin Rankin who orchestrated a superb dinner.
Princess Mimi Romanov and Heather Cohane.
The table settings were inspired by the exotic places Billy has painted. Hand painted place cards with delightful elephants greeted each diner. All guests received privately painted books of Rayner’s travels and watercolors, with Middle Eastern silver ornaments as book marks.

Peter Duchin played during dinner and turned out fabulous dance music afterwards. George Sayn and Ann Nitze, Sarah Callander, Evelyn Tompkins and Richard Foster joined the Rayners in dancing well after midnight.

One of the surprises of the evening was Nicky Haslam singing Cole Porter songs to the Rayners while Peter played. Susan Gutfreund, Senator Mario Durso from Rome and Sybila Clarke added to the group at the piano.
Anne Cox Chambers and William Rayner.
Eva Ahrell and Louise Lewinton.
Many others joined the festivities including Heather Cohane in from Monte Carlo, Maurice Sonnenberg, Ferran Tozer Brown, Grega and Leo Daly, April and Roddy Gow, Harry Fane, Christy Ferer, Charles Cator and Stephen White.

Kathy and Billy Rayner are notable dinner hosts in New York and East Hampton. Festive is the word; warm and friendly is the guest’s reception, and so it is easy to assume with that, and all that music filling Bellamy’s London was a little bit of all right.
Celia Weinstock and Hon. Mrs. Laura Weinstock. Bob Colacello.
Hilary Geary Ross and Wilbur Ross.
Katharine Rayner, Viscountess Stuart of Findhorn, and William Rayner.
Patricia Cook and Louise Lewinton.
Mark Henderson, Violet Henderson, and Tom Quick.
Alfred and Judy Taubman. Anne Nitze and Princess Susan Pignatelli.
Sir Charles Maclean of Dunconnel and Lady Maclean of Dunconnel.
Ivana Lowell and William Rayner.
Karen LeFrak and Hilary Geary Ross. Heather Cohane.
Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, Peter Duchin, and William Rayner.
Nicky Haslam, Peter Duchin, Susan Gutfreund, and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild.
Peter Duchin, Ivana Lowell, and Nicky Haslam.
Dinner party at Bellamy's, Bruton Place.
Countess Maya di Robilant.
Northern Westchester’s beautiful Bedford is famous for its lush green fields, verdant landscapes, large estates (Martha Stewart, the Bloombergs), country houses of Richard Gere, David Letterman and Chevy Chase. For its residents, it is riding country. And everyone rides! It is an equestrian world unto itself.

Lorie Meg Karlin with Jacob
One of the outstanding features of the region is its historical “open trails” – allowing one to continuously ride through forest and private estates. The trails were cleared a century ago to facilitate the Fairfield-Westchester Fox Hunt – English style.

In 1920 horsemen and significant property holders established the Private Lanes Association – to preserve, protect and maintain a system of country lanes and trails on private property. Today equestrians and their beloved fine horses enjoy 100 miles of these trails.

Recently the Bedford Riding Lanes Association held it’s Annual Benefit Luncheon – on the old John Jay property on the road to Katonah. Riders of all ages competed, and beneath a white tent horse-lovers celebrated.

Jill Lynne for NYSD
Ribbons awaiting winners.
Summer Voglinano and Summer Hunter. Dr. Pat Hartwell and Joe Vasallo.
Stina Divine, Ellika and Nina Shilling, and Emily Devine.
Jennifer Jacoby. Martha Stewart with niece, Christina.
Irene and Peter Moritz.
Winner, Dr. Elizabeth Almeyda and "best friend." Winner, Thomas Peterfy.
Jonathan Williams with pooch, Linda Van Kooy, and Maxwell and Peter Levy.
Marlene Paltrow and friend. Kevin Warren and Muffie Dowdle.
Kaihin, Megan, Shelby, Krista, and Katie.
Megan Davis and friend.
Karen and Alan Dillon Jr. Linda Van Kooy and Joey Hunter.
Simon Tsang, Joseph A. Petrellis, and Soo Jee Lee.
Maxell Levy, Brook, Carolyn, Kritie, and friend.
A quiet moment amongst friends. Alex Hammer, Buxton Pond Farm.
Donna and Fred Nives. Preston Turco and friend.
The Tent.
Bob Kotch and Anita Zander check out motto on Mary Ann Hawley's T-shirt.
"I Love Horses."
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Photographs by Dafydd Jones (Rayner)
Comments? Contact DPC here.