Monday, November 14, 2011

Another dimension

Looking through an old train tunnel in Steep Rock Association in Washington, CT. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, November 14, 2011. Fair and mild weekend in New York; still not overcoat weather with temperatures in the high 50s, low 60s.
Fall scenes in Washington, CT.
On Sunday, I went with Joy Ingham down to the Algonquin where our friend Barbara Carroll gives her special Jazz Brunch cabaret concert in the Oak Room every Sunday through December 18th.

I met Barbara in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s when she was playing an engagement at the old Sunset Marquis Hotel in Westwood. Lisa Drew, my editor on the Debbie book, and a longtime fan of Barbara's, took me to see her. I went to see her several times after that night and we struck up a friendship.

On Broadway in "Me and Juliet," 1952.
Barbara grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. From the time she was a kid she had wanted to be a jazz pianist. The calls for girl jazz pianists, however, were not in abundance in those days.

Nevertheless, when she got out of school in 1947, she came to New York to find work. A 22-year-old girl couldn't even get hired out to play a party or a gig with a band in those days. So she billed herself as Bobby Carroll.

She'd go to the job Bobby was booked for and someone would say, "Sorry, we've already booked Bobby Carroll," thinking some guy was about to walk through the door.

She got her first big break playing the accompaniment piano onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Me and Juliet." That was 58 years ago, and the kid's never stopped. This is her 64th year in the business. Here's a taste of Barbara at work at the Algonquin.
‪Barbara Carroll at the Algonquin.
Evelyn Lauder died this past Saturday, at home. She had been suffering from a nongenetic ovarian cancer. She celebrated her 75th birthday last August.

I first met Evelyn in the early 90s when I had started the Social Diary, and she was gaining notice beginning to make big strides with her Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The issue came to my attention when in a two-year period, I knew 7 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. (All of whom, incidentally, were successfully treated and are still leading active lives today.)

By then the Breast Cancer Research Foundation had raised many millions for research grants and were holding two major annual fundraising events. One was the Pink Party where they inaugurated the now famous Pink Ribbon lapel pin. The choice of the color was an idea of Evelyn's because the color traditionally symbolized feminine. The other was the annual Symposium and luncheon when the grants would be awarded and the recipients would be introduced to the guests as well.

The BCRF events were large, dynamic and full of excitement (including an annual concert given by Elton John). I was still new at watching this kind of activity and I could see that Evelyn Lauder personified the enterprising, can-do attitude.
Evelyn Lauder, photographed by Harry Benson in 2010.
There was something about the way she conducted herself with her foundation that intrigued me. It was a business affair on one hand. She liked to point out that the BCRF worked hard just to keep the expenses down so that more than 90 cents of every dollar they took in went directly to the cause – research for a cure. When she presided over the luncheon or the dinner, she had the personality of a pro, at ease, dignified and humble. Off-stage she was the consummate hostess greeting as many of her guests as possible.

Observing her in action, I often thought of her mother-in-law, the formidable Estee, who created the fragrance and cosmetic empire that we know today. Back when Evelyn met Estee's eldest son Leonard, they were just getting started in business. When I first came to New York to live in the early 1960s, Estee Lauder was beginning to make social tracks with commensurate success in business. She was regarded as a newcomer with a lot of push in her. Her drive to market herself became legend both in business and socially. Her success was, indeed, irrefutable.

This was the woman that Evelyn Hausner Lauder would call mother-in-law. Mother-in-law set the tone and the pace. Meeting it as daughter-in-law must have been quite a challenge for Evelyn. So, watching her conduct herself and her foundation business, I could see that she could match her mother-in-law in drive, but also take it one step further: Evelyn Lauder became one of the most effective philanthropists of her time, having created an organization that has succeeded already in assisting tens of thousands of women with breast cancer and even moreso, raising its profile to mass awareness.

Evelyn Lauder at Women's Committee of the Central Park Conservancy's annual luncheon, 10/22/08. Click image to play video.
In 2007 Evelyn was guest of honor at the Women's Committee of the Central Park Conservancy's annual committee luncheon. Eleanora Kennedy interviewed her about her life. She told us how she'd been born to Jewish parents in Vienna in the mid-1930s. She was an infant when Hitler annexed Austria with the Anschluss in 1938. Her father who was in the lumber business, had the foresight to get himself, his wife, and his only child out of the country. It was a long and arduous way around but two years later, the family boarded a steamship for New York.

Evelyn grew up on West 86th Street. She recalled her father taking her to Central Park to play on Sundays when she was a little girl. She went to Hunter College. It was at that time she met Leonard Lauder. They married four years later.

Her first professional job was as a schoolteacher in Queens. When she joined the family business they were still in early stages of development. Over the years, she's held many executive posts in the company. The fortunes of Estee Lauder really went stratospheric in the late '60s and the early '70s, and she had become a household name/brand. The success of the business, however, came from the combination of Estee's marketing genius and her family's management of it. The rest is history.

In 1989 when Evelyn was 53, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't believe this matter has ever been publicized up until the time of her death. It was assumed so only because she was so passionately committed to finding a cure. Her own treatment was successful. I don't know when the historic "aha!" moment came that inspired Evelyn Lauder to "do something" about it. But by the time she started the BCRF in 1993, she was famous amongst her friends for assisting them when the call came.

Yesterday, after her death was announced, I got an email from a woman friend in Santa Barbara telling me how when she contracted a strain of leukemia a number of years ago, she called Evelyn asking for advice. Evelyn referred her to one of the best doctors in New York. My friend still has her blood checked by the same doctor. My friend never received a bill. There are scores of stories about women experiencing their first "scare" and Evelyn personally taking them to her doctors, and following up, a kind of Florence Nightingale.

DPC and Evelyn at the American Cancer Society's Youth Against Cancer: Mothers of the Year Award 2009 luncheon.
Off-stage, off--podium and outside the office, she was a cheerful, albeit very business-like woman who enjoyed the other aspects of her life as well. She and her husband had a wide variety of friends all over the world. They were active in several other philanthropies as well as institutions such as the Whitney Museum and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

All through the years that I knew her, Evelyn seemed indefatigable, one of those women who was always going somewhere, doing something although the course was steady. Yet it was the same year that she was honored at the Conservancy luncheon that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This was not known except to very few, but by the time of the interview she had already been undergoing chemotherapy. She showed no sign of ill-health and in fact the early treatments were a success.

Her condition returned a few months ago. During that time many people have commented on Evelyn's absence at the galas, the dinners and even the luncheons at Michael's – one of her favorites. She was a familiar face to many New Yorkers but she'd stayed close to home, seeing only her family and those closest to her.

It was an extraordinary life for the child who arrived in New York a refugee from Hitler. She was of that generation born into a new and ever-changing world. It was serendipitous that she should marry a man whose family was making extraordinary strides of a different kind. This changed her life forever.

It was not serendipitous, however, that she was able to create an organization 28 years ago which has now raised more than $350 million to date for breast cancer research as well as change the face of the disease. Her bravery, her gumption and her cleverness, as well as her appetite for life, made all of that possible for her, as well as for hundreds of thousands, maybe even milliions and millions of others.

Well done, Evelyn, well done. We'll miss you. We'll miss your smiling face; we'll miss your sweet hello. And we'll miss your courage.

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