Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The first day of Autumn

Looking north along Broadway from Houston Street. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
September 21, 2010. The first day of Autumn (later tonight). Another beautiful day in New York. Mother Nature is blessing us with fair weather after that torrid summer.

Yesterday in New York, designer Douglas Hannant and his partner in business and in life, Fred Anderson hosted a birthday luncheon for international interior designer Geoffrey Bradfield at “21.”
Frederick Anderson, Geoffrey Bradfield, and Douglas Hannant.
I was supposed to go but I have a sick puppy, Mr. Byron – back and spinal disc problems, very painful – and worrisome as well as wrenching to witness. So we spent the day in doctor’s offices with the sweet little guy.

I was surprised that Mr. Bradfield was even at his own party since I saw his picture yesterday on the Party Pictures at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris. But then that was last week, and as I said, Geoffrey is international.

Click to order Changing Shoes.
Last night at Florence Gould Hall, my friend Tina Sloan opened with a one-night-only performance of her new play which goes with her new book, both of the same name: Changing Shoes. A memoir in two different media acts. The story, I mean. I missed the show as I will explain in a moment, although Tina acted out a few of the scenes at the Michael’s lunch last week and so I know it was very funny.

Tina is an actress. I mean although she’s a mother and a wife and a friend, and even now a writer, she’s in essence an actress. And actresses act. Anytime they get a chance, believe me. They can do it in a restaurant, at the hairdresser, anywhere. They can’t help it. It’s because they live there. The stage is the world, as the song says. It’s quite a gift. Life is always interesting, and to more than one person. The upshot of this is they have interesting lives, full of drama, and comedy if they’re so inclined. Not all are; although Tina is. I’m sure the Florence Gould Hall was rocking.

While over at MacKenzie-Childs on 14 West 57th, Calvin Klein hosted a book party for Glenn Plaskin and memoir Katie Up and Down the Hall. It’s not everyday Calvin hosts book parties for a memoirist. So this was a special New York event. Ivana Trump, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Mary Higgins Clark, Cynthia McFadden, Ernie Anastos, Commissioner Ray Kelly were the names on the Press list. The party honored the American Kennel Club’s Humane Fund and Responsible Dog Ownership Days. There’s a lot for a lot of us to learn. I haven’t read Mr. Plaskin’s book but it’s about a dog with a magnetic personality who brings people together. A portion of any sales last night at MacKenzie Childs was donated to the Fund.

Lynn Nottage.
Will Eno.
Also, down at the Players Club (which was once the home of Edwin Booth, the great Shakespearean actor and brother of John Wilkes) in Gramercy Park, the Greg and Mari Marchbanks Family Foundation presented the Horton Foote Prizes for Outstanding New American Play and Promising New American Play to Lynn Nottage and Will Eno. Each playwright was also awarded $15,000 and a limited edition of Keith Carter’s photograph of Horton Foote. Even if you don’t think you know Horton Foote, you’ve seen his stories on the screen. He also wrote the screenplay for To Kill A Mockingbird. He died last year at 83 after a very prolific career.

Nottage and Eno were nominated by the Manhattan Theatre Club and Vineyard Theatre as well as 54 resident theatres across the country – all with a story history of producing new works.

One and Two Degrees of Separation.
Edward Albee was there, as well as Andre Bishop, Arthur French, Carlin Glynn, Tony Kushner, Jim Houghton, Peter Masterson, David Margulies, Charles Mee, Christopher Shinn, Lois Smith and Diane Foote, Hallie Foote and Horton Foote Jr.

Have noticed how this Diary turned out to be about actors and writers and dogs? Thank God for all of them, no?

This list of last night’s events is an example of why New Yorkers love New York. Imagine, all of these people, all of this talent, in just a few rooms around the city, and much of it accessible to the rest of us. Imagine, beyond that, many people even take it for granted while there! The ultimate New Yorkers maybe.

Three degrees of separation. I had a friend who grew up in the same town in Texas as Horton Foote. She once told me that all the characters in his stories were people she knew and grew up with, along with Horton.

Last night I went over to the New York Public Library in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue for the President’s Council Fall Dinner. Invitations to Library dinners and luncheons are at the top of my list. They draw a specific cross section of the city’s cultural, philanthropic and business leaders, and at the events, the writers do the talking. These gatherings are, in a very real way, catering to the elite of the city, and therefore have an elitist quality to them. Somehow, however, this is how elitism can be a strength and a blessing.
Jon Meacham and Ron Chernow discuss his new biography, Washington: A Life, last night at The New York Public Library.
Guests clearing the tables before departure last night at the dinner in the Astor Hall.
The guests last night were treated to a discussion, really a Q&A, between Jon Meacham and Ron Chernow. Mr Meacham is the former editor-in-chief of Newsweek and has written several books including a biography of Andrew Jackson, and is currently working on a biography of Thomas Jefferson.

Mr. Chernow has had a prolific career as a biographer – of Alexander Hamilton, JP Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and the Warburg Family. He has just published a biography of George Washington, and that was the subject of last night’s discussion.

Arlyn and Ed Gardner with author Ron Chernow.
George Washington, among all those aforementioned names, has always seemed the dullest. I should add I’ve never read anything about him other than what was required history reading in school. The George Washington Ron Chernow was talking about last night reminded me of this “deficiency” in my comparatively meager knowledge of history.

The deficiency is the result of a lifetime of mythologizing the man, from the dollar bill to the Father of Our Country, to the Washington Crossing the Delaware to the kid who chopped down the cherry tree and told his father he could not tell a lie – he did it. All of that was interesting to this kid but eventually faded into the woodwork like old wallpaper. He was never real, he was always a portrait.

Chernow’s portrait, however, produces a “real.” Washington lost his father at age 11 and had to assume the role of adult, being the eldest of his family siblings.

Furthermore he had a mother who in today’s terms would be called a “Jewish mother,” the kind that Nichols and May and many other brilliant comedians built careers on recounting and recalling. Chernow’s stories about Mother Washington are even funny in the same way they are serious.

The man was ambitious, if not witty, aspiring, difficult (Hamilton described him once as “ill-humored”), tough, and was mainly attracted to women who had money (his first love was the daughter of a man who controlled 5 million acres of Virginia – and who gave George a job as a surveyor). He was self-made. And he presumably “got everything he wanted” to get, in terms of ambitions. And in the end it got him – privacy was almost impossible; he was a prisoner of his own fame and greatness.

Click to order Washington.
Ron Chernow also -- Paul LeClerc, the Chairman and CEO of the NYPL told us in his introductory remarks -- uses this library all the time and even wrote one of his books entirely in the library.

The discussion began at 7, held the audience rapt, and promptly ended at 8. New Yorkers like that too. There was a seated dinner in the Astor Hall with the tables designed by David Monn. Conversation everywhere just as you’d expect in an institution for books.

Menu: Chicken and grilled veggies including baby carrots and turnips and the dessert a tribute to General George Washington: cherry pie. About 9:30, the dinner guests began to get up, mingle a bit with good nights and then depart. On our way out each of us was given a signed copy of the new Washington biography.

The aforementioned The Warburgs is the first of Ron Chernow's books that I’ve read. It made a great impression on me partly because I had no expectations or knowledge of the family when I picked it up. I had been sick in bed with a terrible cold one summer about 15 or 17 years ago. I was provoked by the story to consider many things, including the nature of this great city. It is also one of the best books I’ve ever read about a family and a time and a place and a social contract.

That’s where he takes you with all his characters. And it’s all led to this: now.
After leaving the Library about 9:45, I walked a few blocks up Fifth Avenue to get a cab. It was a nice night, cool and relatively quiet along the avenue, aside from the average Monday mid-evening traffic of people going home ... when all of a sudden I heard the sirens and then saw the red and blue twirling lights, and then the shiny black SUVs with the black tinted windows, followed by more police cars, and then ... the limousine carrying the VIPs onward through UN Week in little ole New York.
Earlier in the day, JH had a quick look around the other parts of town starting with SoHo ...
Central Park
Upper West Side
Riverside Park
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