Thursday, February 25, 2010

Social Anarchy. Lisa Falcone.

Guests of the American Friends of Versailles congregating in the Salon d'Hercule at Versailles in June, 2007. Photo: JH.
February 25, 2010. Grey skies yesterday in New York with the weatherman predicting all kinds of rains and snows and hurricane winds in what at this writing (midnight), is a calm, preciptitation-less night.

Tuesday night, as you read here yesterday, I went over to the Café Carlyle to see John Standing, the English actor, perform Noel Coward songs. This was a great evening. Standing is a great entertainer, a funny man who can carry a tune, albeit if in a bucket, and delivers Coward’s clipped and sleekly naughty wit in a style that keeps the laughter live in the room through the whole show. If you love Noel Coward or even wonder why he was such a famous and funny man, don't miss this. Standing channels him to perfection. He performs every night except Sunday and Monday, at 8:45 at the Cafe Carlyle.

The following is a clip of Mr. Standing performing Coward’s “In A Bar On the Piccolo Marina, (Life Came to Mrs. Wentworth Brewster)” For those unfamiliar with the song, it’s about a proper English lady who when her husband died middle-aged, she decided to move from draughty old England to the island of Capri where the Mediterranean salt air (and the bar on the Piccolo Marina) brought about big change in the lady’s nights under the Mediterranean moon.
Social Anarchy. Lisa Falcone is a New York woman in the prime of her life who has made something of a name for herself in the community, or rather her community – that being the young very rich New Yorkers. She is married to a very rich hedge fund owner/investor named Philip Falcone. He is listed on the Forbes 400. It is said they have five residences including a large mansion here in New York that once belonged to Bob Guccione, the man who invented Penthouse magazine.

She caught everyone’s attention last summer when at a benefit for the HighLine with an audience populated by the high mucky mucks of community philanthropy, she suddenly took the podium – seemingly out of the blue -- and pledged $10 million to the project. In New York, a ten million dollar pledge can get you angel wings in some people’s eyes. And dollar signs in others. It can definitely get you a dinner invitation or two to sit among the swells in gilded halls of the highest hats.

Lisa and Philip Falcone at Friends of The High Line 2009 Opening Summer Benefit Dinner.
Somewhere around that time, Mrs. Falcone also gave an interview to the New York Times (which was written about here at the time) several months ago. (It was later said that her husband had become the largest individual stockholder in the New York Times Company, which for insiders explained the prominence and length of the interview (Never mind it was a great read.)

In the piece she talked about her background growing up in Spanish Harlem with a single mother, struggling to keep a roof over their heads. It’s one thing to read about it, but quite another to live it. Aspirations maybe plentiful but so is reality which is also more than harsh. Her story was sensitively related although there was also that air of challenge in it.

I first saw her a few years ago in France at the Bal de Marie Antoinette, staged by the American Friends of Versailles, at Versailles. She was with a man who looked like he might have been her haircutter or makeup guy, perhaps a little younger, but a pal.

Her dress, her costume was almost a paean to Marie Antoinette and the last days of monarchy, and they stood apart from the crowd as if by choice. At first sight I thought they were a couple of rockers (rich rockers, that is, who could afford the pricey ticket). He looked a little like Prince. And she looked like an East Village fashion model/hipster playing (very expensive) dress up. A lark. To create an impression. And where could be better for such things than Versailles?

These balls for the American Friends subscribers are great fun because they are so fancy, full of friends, old and new; and in one of the fanciest of venues in the world -- where the kings and queens of France had trod. But to these guests, many if not most used to fancy dress balls, it was a just a stupendous variation on a familiar theme. And a place to rub elbows with other VIPs.

Ironically Lisa Falcone’s image, despite the costume, did not telegraph that kind of wealth. Ironically, considering her husband’s ranking on the F400. She did not look like a rich woman in rooms were aswirl with wealthy women, wives and heiresses; although she was present at all the major events staged before the Bal de Marie Antoinette, and paid top dollar (a contribution) which was somewhere between fifteen and fifty thousand for the grand tier (tour). When I asked other guests about the couple, however, no one seemed to know them or who they were.

Lisa Falcone and Zaldy Gocco at the Bal de Marie Antoinette, staged by the American Friends of Versailles, at Versailles, 2007.
The Cinderella from Spanish Harlem. A couple of years passed before I heard of the lady again, and it was only then that was when I learned her name: the article in the New York Times. A rags-to-riches New York society piece.

It is very easy to be anonymous, even in this cyber-world. Those who are “out there,” whose names you know from media, whose pictures you see, are mainly people who want to be “out there.” For a variety of age-old reasons that add up to their self-concept of survival: a desire to play a bigger role, to live in a bigger world, to gain the trappings, like wealth and prestige. New York is the mecca for it in these times, as Paris was in the 19th century of Balzac. It’s an old game with constantly new players.

It’s a classic story. People like to think that there is no New York society anymore, but there is. They just don’t like the way it looks. Those who have ambition and do not belong understand this very well. Women and men will always strive for recognition and position in this culture. Not every woman and every man, obviously, but those who do need to pursue a place that affirms the Self.

Brooke Astor, for example, wanted to be out there, to be known, to be feted and celebrated. She succeeded because she had the money (her husband’s) and the talent to play the role. She obviously wanted it also, having married a man for his great fortune and family name, and little else. In the end she garnered great stature in the community and the power of fame to support a scandal.

There are exceptions among the select. Her thought-to-be-successor Annette de la Renta does not want to be out there. She does not want to be photographed or quoted or talked about, and is rarely seen in public events. She does not want to be written about. And when she is, she even goes to the trouble of trying to silence the yakkers. Because of that she will never be the image of a successor to Brooke Astor, and clearly, she doesn’t want to be. Although, on the other hand, Mrs. de la Renta is a recognized power in her circle and obviously she likes that, because she exercises it when she sees fit.

Lisa Falcone obviously has pursued recognition. She may have been inspired by Brooke Astor. She wants to be recognized. It was obvious at Versailles, in retrospect -- even though I didn’t know whom I was looking at -- and it was obvious in the Times piece.

Lisa Falcone and Zaldy Gocco.
So she has succeeded. But now they are throwing rocks at her. Her personal approach is somewhat in-yer-face which may explain the rocks (I don’t mean in the literal sense). Unlike some social “out there” players, she doesn’t conceal her birth background, or the hardships of her Spanish-Harlem childhood. Or pretend.

Sometimes it comes out expressed in street-talk. Speaking before one group of ladies one day at a charity luncheon – ladies who were (typically) not paying attention and gabbing among themselves – she was reported to have told the audience that if they didn’t shuttup she was “gonna go Puerto Rican” on them and sear their “*****” or something along those lines. That got their attention.

That also left them talking, who does she think she is? Not an astute question -- although a natural reaction -- because Lisa Falcone by all evidence, shows you exactly who she thinks she is. For that moment, anyway.

Last week, a former employee (for two months), William Gamble took her to court, claiming that she harassed him, hit him, made homophobic comments (he’s gay) and made him work in a room which once housed the family’s pet pig, Wilbur. "The pig really had a lovely life," according to Gamble, with “two people assigned to him at all times."

Mr. Gamble also claimed that when they were in St. Barth’s on holiday, Mrs. Falcone once put her hand in his pants. Or rather grabbed him. There. When he balked she allegedly slugged him.

"She touched me,” Gamble was quoted as saying, “and I drew back and away from her,” adding that she then said he needed a "good f***" to turn him straight." She also allegedly suggested that he don a skimpier swimsuit and mused that strangers might think he was her boytoy. Something Brooke Astor would not have done. Let alone her no-attention seeking non-successor, Mrs. de la R.

Lisa Falcone and Zaldy Gocco at Chateau de Courances, outside of Paris.
The Falcones responded to William Gamble’s lawsuit filing with the following: "This is an absolutely false, baseless lawsuit which is nothing more than a transparent attempt by a disgruntled former employee, let go after two months, to extract money."

The lawsuit came the week before the notices went out from the private schools as to who was “in” and who was not. There was much speculation about the destination of Mrs. Falcone’s daughters. There were the stories about the birthday party she had for them creating an Oz like setting with little people and pink hay. Or how she Fed-Ex’d her cats to St. Barth’s to be close to her (and presumably at the time, Mr. Gamble).

On some level, Lisa Falcone has succeeded in her quest of self-affirmation, expression, description. She is describing and defining a side of us that is prevalent right now in our society (with the little “s”). She’s rich, or rather her husband is. She can afford abundance, even excess and embraces it. She comes from an environment of multiple deprivation and now competes in a scene rife with notions of entitlement. And people are paying attention, like those ladies who almost turned her “Puerto Rican” again. There are things to admire.

There are also other things, less admirable. Even inadvisable. At this moment, because of the background of her husband’s wealth, she is drawing attention to the utter excess and extravagance of people associated with Wall Street or the financial world. They appear to be the richest people on the planet right now – the money people – not the manufacturers or the inventors or the business/industry creators, the providers of jobs. This may be a false perception but nevertheless it is how things are viewed.

Yesterday, former governor and Senator Jon Corzine said in an interview on Bloomberg that people envied Goldman Sach’s success. “When you’re successful it brings envy,” he explained. Perhaps that was so at one time but the rumbling out there about the money these guys and girls have made and paid themselves is transforming that envy into ire. This is unfavorable for everybody. Even the public Lisa Falcone.

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