Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Sun came out yesterday in New York

A sunlit terrace along West End Avenue in the 90s. 4:30 PM. Photo: JH.
March 25, 2010. The Sun came out yesterday in New York, but the air was that very early Spring chill.

At six-thirty I went down Dr. Bill Haseltine’s skyline aerie across from the UN to a book reading he was hosting for Norris Mailer and her newly published memoir A Ticket to the Circus.

I got there just as Norris had begun her reading. Norris is, as you probably know, the widow of Norman Mailer, his fifth or sixth and definitely last wife of almost 30 years. She was much younger than he, and when you look at the pictures in the book you see what Norman no doubt saw also: a very beautiful young woman with the face of a real angel. The thing about Norris -- whom I do know to the point where we can call ourselves friends – is Norris is a really nice woman. Really, in some ways like an angel. This is obvious on meeting and even more obvious as you get to know her. What she is is Up Front. But a Southern girl too, so she’s diplomatic and tactful (although not to a fault) in her relations with others. But she’s someone who likes people. And she’s honest about herself.
First Avenue looking south at Forty-ninth Street. On the immediate left is the United Nations Plaza apartments, and then the UN Building (catching the last rays of the setting sun) which is also reflected on the all-black Trump Tower on the right on the corner of 48th Street.
On the northwest corner of 48th and First I saw the first blooming tree of the season. This is good news for all.
She was in many ways “just a little girl from Little Rock,” like the songs says, when Norman Mailer met her. And he was, to her, as he was for so many millions of others, NORMAN MAILER, King of the Literary Frontier and certified (and some thought certifiable) American Macho Man who was smart and dramatic and wrote like a dream come true.

Last night Norris read a piece of a chapter about that first meeting. There were fifty or sixty people standing around Norris in Bill Haseltine’s dining room (with the tables and chairs removed), listening to her read.

Norris has been battling cancer for the past nine years, I should add, and while it has taken its toll of her time, it has not hindered her progress or productivity as a writer and artist. Her friends are all well aware of this, and are listening to, and hearing the words of, a plucky woman. The reward is, as it was last night listening to her FRANKLY describe her first meeting of Norman Mailer – he the star, she the kid from Arkansas. She’s so frank in putting it out there that the most intimate details brought roars of laughter from the crowd. This is a funny book too.
Norris Church Mailer reading from her memoir, A Ticket to the Circus. That's Erica Jong to her left leaning in as she listens, and Erica's husband, lawyer Ken Burrows to her left in the red tie. Behind them and below is the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the East River and Queens and on and on.
After she finished reading, Norris’ editor. David Ebershoff, took the spot with her and thanked her for her work. Then he told us how the book came about.

They had a meeting one day. Norris had written two autobiographical novels. Ebershoff suggested she write a memoir.

Norris took his suggestion. After he read the first thirty pages about her growing up, he knew he had a good book. After reading her pages about Bill Clinton, he knew he had a hit on his hands. But then after reading her pages (which she’d just read to us) about meeting Norman Mailer, he knew it was a winner. And that was just the beginning.
Dr. Bill Haseltine and Norris Church Mailer holding her new memoir, A Ticket to the Circus. Click to order. Eileen Finlater, Maria Cooper Janis and Judy Auchincloss.
Life with Norman Mailer was not exactly a trip to paradise a lot of times. After all, this was a man who had been married several times, had many affairs, several children, a large sense of self that others might describe as a Big Ego, and at writer at all times. As sensitive and brilliant as he was, he could also be what is known in most circles as “a pain in the ass.” Norman was real at all times, and to be married to him and to live with him was to enjoy his brilliance and his sensitivity as well as endure the enormous artist’s temperament.

As it turned out, time has measured it as a very successful marriage. The little girl from Little Rock could handle the job, and to paraphrase Katharine Hepburn’s famous line about Astaire and Rogers (“he gave her class, she gave him sex”), Norris gave Norman class and, considering his seniority, she also gave him sex. He gave her patience and fortitude and a wonderful life together.
The view from the 80s (floor-wise) of the Upper East Side of Manhattan looking down on First Avenue, the East River, the Bronx and the Palisades along the Hudson on the upper left.
Afterwards I was going to dinner at Swifty’s with Margo Howard who was in town, from Boston, for the reading, and I gave Alice Mason a ride home. For a long time in New York Alice Mason gave a dinner on the third week of every month (except the summer months) for sixty people at her Upper East Side apartment. Alice’s guest lists remain some of the most interesting and imaginative social material ever seen in New York in the last century. Alice, who reigned for years as the ultimate broker for the high end private residential real estate, is also something of a social/political scientist although she’d never see it quite that way.

Norman Mailer was a good friend of Alice's, and after a couple of her dinner parties he said to her: “Have a dinner every Tuesday night and then I can see anybody and everybody I want to see and I don’t have to go out the rest of the time.” So it was; she did and he did. So did Norris. I don’t know how many dinners the Mailers attended at Alice Mason’s over the years but she was telling us in the taxi last night that she’d entertained 15,000 guests over the years including three Presidents, 60 per evening. Therefore, many got to rub shoulders with the man Mailer himself and his beautiful wife.
The view looking north and east over Roosevelt Island and the 59th Street/Queensboro Bridge, the Con Ed stacks in red and north/northeast to Connecticut and Long Island.
Eastern view of the southern tip of Roosevelt Island looking west to Queens and Long Island. The tall green building is the Citigroup tower. 7:15 pm.
Afterwards at dinner at Swifty’s (which was jumping last night) Margo and I talked about Norris and her new book. I mentioned the item this week on Page Six about the woman who has written her memoir about her long affair with Norman Mailer. This was very upsetting news for Norris when it broke last year. What’s more the woman was making it known that she was selling her “papers” to Harvard with all her details about her affair. Besides her grief, she now also had those feelings of outrage and deep betrayal, those ghosts that often plague us in intimate relationships.

She had to accept it however, and she did. Last night Margo was telling me that her mother, the late Eppie Lederer (Ann Landers) always used to say about such things, “That’s the price of the ticket.” I think that might have been the inspiration for the title of Norris’ book: A Ticket to the Circus; A memoir. Price inside. Comes with popcorn and cotton candy. And thrills and chills.
Looking west toward midtown, the Chrysler Building spire in the center with The Empire State (8 blocks south and 4 blocks to the west). That's the Hudson and the New Jersey shore running across the upper left. 7:30 pm.
Meanwhile while we’re on the subject of Love and Marriage (goes-together-like-a-horse-and-carriage style), news came to us early last evening that Those Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Someone’s. And, take heart: Everything old is new again, just like the song says. And I’m not kidding.

Our Palm Beach Social Diarist Hilary Geary Ross reported last night:

News flash from PB! The temperature has finally warmed up down here but  the really sizzling hot news is  that my beautiful mother, Patricia Murray Wood is going to tie the knot, yes, get married to charming and handsome Ambassador Ed Ney, Chairman Emeritus of Young & Rubicam and our former U.S. Ambassador to Canada. Everyone is thrilled to pieces and cannot wait to celebrate! The two were introduced last summer at the Southampton Bathing Corp at a little luncheon given by Ginny and Freddie Melhado and  there was no turning back. Love has cast its magic spell and they will be married in Southampton, early this summer. Hoorah for romance! 

I should add that Mrs. Wood, the widow of the late great tennis star Sidney Wood, is one of the loveliest ladies you could ever hope to meet in what is still known as Society or anywhere. She is grace and kindness personified. And stalwart also.
She’s a member of the Murray family who with the McDonnells (related through marriage) were the two biggest clans of summer people in Southampton. The families owned a huge chunk of beachfront acreage from the early decades to the ‘60s of the last century.

Like her sisters, the late Cathy de Montezemelo and Jeanne Murray Vanderbilt, Pat has always been prominent in her community. For many years she wrote the weekly social column for the Southampton Press.

The courtly Mr. Ney is not a newcomer to Southampton. In the 1990s he and his previous wife Judy – they were divorced last year – owned a house that had previously been owned by Anne McDonnell Ford Johnson, also a Southamptonite and, coincidentally, a cousin of Pat Wood. Small worlds collide and happiness results. Congratulations to the happy couple!
The NYSD Photo Archive is vast, having grown by a few thousand items every year. Occasionally I look at parts of it when looking for something specific. I have to be careful, however, not to be distracted by all the pictures and the people, as well as the pictures we never used for a variety of reasons – some of them very obvious.

I don’t really like having my picture taken. I don’t like the way I look. A psychoanalyst could easily explain why and it most likely has much to do with the way I think of myself. Or see myself. In fact, not most likely, definitely. For at this late age, I am still a child in many ways and the camera provokes that self-consciousness, at least to my eyes.

However, that said, I do find some of the goofiest and most awkward pictures of myself very amusing and they often make me laugh. I should add that I am not the only one whose looks are very amusing and who often makes me laugh. There are many others, most of whom I know, some of whom I don’t.

So it happened that the last time I was in the archive looking for something and got distracted by all the photos all around it, I decided we should makes some pages of them.

You’ll see a lot of familiar faces among them. You may even see yourself, or definitely someone you know or have seen before. People go nuts when a camera is around. I’m always amazed at how “camera-ready” so many are when they spot the photographer or the digital – both men and women. In some ways it’s like Sunset Boulevard all over again. “Ready for my closeup, CB…” And they have tricks of posture, I’ve learned (it took me awhile), that makes them look “thinner” or taller or “younger.” It’s not just the women; the men too. They also adopt other people’s habits.

The Tinsley Mortimer cross-ankle look is most prominent among young women and even some young men. In another age, that position signaled that the girl had to go to the bathroom. Or that the boy was about ready to trip himself. Now it’s fashion.

Then there are all those moments which we never see when they’re in front of us because they usually have to do with someone in conversation or at least being verbal. Or lost in thought. Or when the smile is the umbrella as well as the deluge. In all cases the results are often hilarious (to these eyes anyway) and witness to the fact that we are definitely not as serious as we like to think we are.

And last but hardly least: it amazes me how many parties, events, galas, benefits, concerts there are in New York in the course of any given week, let alone month or year. Hundreds, even thousands. This is the way of New York, and on this page many of the characters are some of the most prominent characters of the city today. It is also important to note that as the past grows more distant, the images become more serious to the first-time viewer, no matter the expressions of the faces and bodies. It is the fashions that will look most frivolous, even absurd (yet fascinating) to our descendents’ eyes.
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