Thursday, July 29, 2010

The busiest day of the week

Dining al fresco at Nello on Madison Avenue. Photo: JH.
July 29, 2010. Very warm, yesterday in New York with the heat noticeably bearing down on us by mid-afternoon. President Obama was also in town tying up traffic on the busiest day of the week. The President was here to make an appearance on Barbara Walter’s “The View” and to dine at the home of Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

Down at Michael’s, the Wednesday crowd (packed) was wondering aloud why the President of the United States was appearing on daytime TV coffee-klatch and then breaking bread downtown with a fashion magazine editor. Someone suggested that it was because of his falling ratings with the women in the audience. Someone suggested we were just sour grapes, jealous that we weren’t invited.

Among the Michael’s crowd: Paige Peterson and her daughter Alexandra with Jesse Kornbluth; Fox News’ Laurie Dhue with two old friends (mother/daughter) from Atlanta; Margo Nederlander with Haley Steinbrenner Swindel (the late George’s granddaughter); Tiffany Dubin, Richard Beckman, David Adler, Stan Shuman, Diane Clehane, Chris Meigher, Martin Puris, Jamie Niven, Jerry Inzerillo.

Mary McDonagh Murphy with Scout, Atticus & Boo; A Celebration of Fifty years of To Kill A Mockingbird. Click to order.
At table 1, Joan Jakobson, our friend and occasional NYSD contributor, was hosting a lunch for her friend Mary McDonagh Murphy whose book Scout, Atticus & Boo; A Celebration of Fifty years of To Kill A Mockingbird was just published (HarperCollins). At table: Mary’s brother Patrick Murphy, Joe Armstrong, this writer and of course our hostess.

Mary, a longtime television producer (CBS Sunday Morning, etc.) is publishing her book in tandem with the completion of her new documentary on the life of Harper Lee marking the 50th Anniversary of what is now considered one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century. More than 50 million copies have been sold of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and it is still selling at the rate of a million copies a year.

Mary’s book includes interviews with a number of people who were deeply touched by the novel, including Tom Brokaw, James McBride, Anna Quindlen, and Oprah who regards Mockingbird as our National Novel.

Harper Lee, who never wrote another book, lives here in New York as well as in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama (where Truman Capote was her next door neighbor and best playmate when she was growing up). Ms. Lee, who is by no means a recluse, is reticent about publicizing herself and did not agree to be interviewed. Her elder sister, who is 98 and still practicing law in Monroeville, did give Ms. Murphy a good thorough interview. I think Ms. Lee the lawyer may have been the first woman admitted to the Alabama bar.
Jonathan Burnham, Jane Friedman, and Harper Lee at Michael's celebrating the author's 80th birthday on April 28, 2006. Photo: JH.
Around town. After lunch, it was impossible to get a cab in the midtown gridlock created by a Presidential visit, and so I walked with Joan up Madison Avenue to 68th Street where she went off to an appointment and I hailed an air-conditioned cab.
The Dior store on 57th Street is undergoing some renovations and just so you won't forget what's inside waiting for you, they put up this very large handbag.
On the corner of 65th Street and Madison Avenue is a completely re-faced post-War apartment building that was originally a sky-blue brick facade. One of the great old apartment buildings: 45 East 68th Street, an eclectic mix of Elizabethan and Flemish Gothic, built by Charles F. Rogers. The building was divided into only two apartments per floor. Fred Leighton is located in the corner shop, which for years was a pharmacy.
Around the town: I was perusing actress Phyllis Newman's new blog ( and came upon this great shot of her terrace overlooking Central Park. Ms. Newman's neighbors are all show-biz too: Jerry Seinfeld and Glenn Close.
Across the river: A new sculpture "Nodding Acquaintance" by Wendy Vanderbilt Lehman installed in Summit, New Jersey.
Yesterday afternoon, my friend the author Jane Stanton Hitchcock (Mortal Friends, Social Crimes, Witches’ Hammer, Trick of the Eye) after reading yesterday’s Diary about Hamptons memories, was inspired to share her recollections of growing up summers in East Hampton ...

Dear David,
Your wonderful article brought back so many memories for me. I wanted to tell you that I started coming to East Hampton as a tiny tot. 

My mother went out there in 1945! I grew up there in the summers. My mother, who was working in radio (ed. note: her mother Joan Alexander played Lois Lane on the Superman radio show) at the time, used to drive out every weekend to see me and my Nana. It was a long haul back then, as you point out. It took her nearly four hours each way. 

The cast of The Adventures of Superman (radio) including Bud Collyer who played Clark Kent, and Joan Alexander who played Lois Lane.
Nana and I stayed with a sweet old English couple name Flora and John Darby, after whom Darby Lane is named. Mother would take us to dinner at Spring Close or Out Of This World Inn or Gosman's Dock. When she married my stepfather, they bought a house on Hunting Lane and eventually a house on Hither Lane.
I knew East Hampton when Mr. Marley owned the stationery store on Main Street where I used to buy Esterbrook pens and comic books; when there was a Mr. Edwards, who owned the Edwards Theatre, which had ONE screen; when there were no boutiques, and many fewer traffic lights. Cars automatically stopped if you wanted to cross the street. 
I knew and liked Elaine Steinbeck, whom you mention, because my parents were friends with her. Truman Capote, too, was an old friend of my parents. Mom and Dad had taken me to his Black and White Ball, and they were upset when their names were not included on the published guest list. But I remember that ball well.  

Truman once took me out for lunch in Southampton and told me how upset he was that a woman named Babe (Paley) didn't speak to him anymore. I didn't know who “Babe” was. I went home and asked my mother and she acted like I'd asked her who George Washington was. Dick Avedon used to photograph our family on the beach every summer and, God, those shots are telling. They predicted the isolation, dysfunction, and craziness that was to become our family. 

Willem de Kooning
I remember Bill de Kooning dropping by our house, along with a host of other famous people, including George Plimpton, Art Buchwald, Neil Simon, Betty Bacall, Mike Nichols, Bill and Rose Styron, Tom and Pam Wicker, (Senator) Chuck and Lorraine Percy, Sidney Lumet, and Peter Stone, who wrote 1776 in our house. There was a sign on our tennis court that said, "Oh, Plimp!" because that was what George Plimpton said every time he missed a shot. I used to joke that at my parents' parties, I was the only person there I didn't know!
I remember when Leonard Bernstein was asked to leave the Maidstone Club's tennis court. Oy!  It was a world divided into three parts, like Gaul: The clubbies, the artists and writers, and the townfolk (bonnikers, they were called.)
In the '60s, I was in a rock band called The Utopian Carwash with Baird Hersey, John Hersey's son. We actually played at Mitty's and I was offered a contract by a some hippie guy who said he was from Flowerpower Records. 

I drove a blue VW Beetle with Porthault towel seat covers made especially for me because my stepfather, Arthur Stanton, was a great friend of the head of the company. Fernanda Niven and I were in a play together at the Guild Theatre: James Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks. We were both "Town Fools."  To this day, Fernanda and I greet each other, "Hello, Town Fool!"
The bar at Sam's.
The "Old Hook Mill" is located in East Hampton,
The Hamptons didn't exist, as you say in your piece. There were individual towns, each with its own character. My favorite places to eat back then were Sam's where the pizza was divine (it still is, thank God!), Ridgeley's, which had the greatest steaks and salads in the world (Dick Ridgeley would never divulge his secret formula,) and Gosman's, which had no waiting time. I saw Bo Diddley, Jr. play the guitar with his feet and tongue. We all hung out at the Bull's Head Inn, the Candy Kitchen, and Mitty's.
I also wanted to tell you that LSD was in the ether at that point and I knew of someone who had taken it up at Harvard. He called himself the Ice Cream Christ because he took all the ice cream out of his parents' freezer and walked on it like Christ walked on water, he said. It was legal then. You could send away for the ingredients from Sandoz.
When I go back to East Hampton these days, I'm still struck by the enduring beauty of the place. I think of how much has happened since I was a kid. When I walk along Main Street, I sometimes wonder what dear old Mr. Marley would make of his stationery store now that it's a boutique, or of the world, for that matter. 
Gone with the wind is putting it mildly. 
Love, Jane
PS. We never used “summer,” we just used to go to the country.
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