Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Haywire and humble

Lovebirds in Central Park. 3:25 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Sunny and very warm day, yesterday in New York. Almost humid. The flowers are out all over the city. It’s amazing when you think of it, walking around in these brick, steel, glass and concrete canyons reaching up to the sky, and right on the curbside or hugging the building or window boxes on somebody’s doorstep or window sill are tulips having their day. Or the Japanese cherries in the Park, or the magnolia, and the other stuff I don’t have the name for. These moments of nature’s visuals are very important to New Yorkers. It reminds us that we’re human and living on the planet with everyone else. Otherwise we’re in a rush.
Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.
I went down to Michael’s to lunch with Brooke Hayward whom I haven’t seen in several weeks. They re-issued her best-selling family memoir Haywire (first published in 1977) a couple of months ago. Liz Smith told me she had re-read it and concluded that it was the best book about a celebrity family and what it means to be a celebrity family, that she’d ever read.

Click to order Haywire.
Brooke’s father was Leland Hayward, the super-agent and distinguished and highly successful Broadway producer (“Gypsy,” “Sound of Music,” etc. — detail: Leland’s stepmother was the lady who sold her mansion on Fifth Avenue to Cartier for a million-dollar pearl necklace.) Brooke’s favorite stepmother was Slim Keith, who was succeeded by Pamela, who then married Averell Harriman, and caused more than much ado.

Brooke’s mother was Margaret Sullavan, a major film and stage star in the 1940s and 50s. She was also married to Henry Fonda, whose first wife committed suicide. His next wife, Brooke’s mother, later committed suicide in 1960 at the age of 51. Brooke’s younger sister and brother followed suit years later.

The family grew up glamorously in Beverly Hills and a farm in Connecticut called “Haywire.” Glamorously if you factor out the intense depression running through their veins. It is a compelling story about real life, and masterfully told. Although Brooke is not impressed by her talent. Her writing style is direct, as she is in conversatoin, and like a reporter. As is her style in life. Friends have been after her for a long time to write the next chapter. She is now in the process of getting a divorce from Peter Duchin, so it’s a good time for her to turn the page and push the quill. This is my opinion, not hers.

She’s had three husbands including the recently departed Dennis Hopper, with whom she has a daughter Marin. She also has two sons with her first husband, the gnarlingly witty and perspicacious social, political and financial (a Renaissance man) commentator and novelist, Michael Thomas. It’s a movie. A great woman’s role for one of our biggest young stars.
DPC and Brooke Duchin at Michael's last fall.
Last night I was a guest of Toni Goodale at the annual PEN Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History. This is a favorite annual event of mine, as I’ve written here before. Mainly for sentimental reasons: it’s about writers and the business of being a writer in the community. There is something oddly heady being in a social environment dominated by the presence of writers. You could call it sentimental. There are always a lot of writers at this dinner, and at least one or two at each table – although this year the two at my (Toni Goodale’s) table were no-shows.

This is a dinner evening of speakers. The difference is the speakers are often distinguished by the achievements as writers. This year’s welcoming remarks were made by Anthony Appiah, the President of PEN.
The two guests writers who didn't make it to their (our) table last night at the PEN dinner.
There was a problem with the acoustics. Oddly, even among writers with their own, when the acoustics are failing, the crowd behaves accordingly: they ignore it and chat among themselves.

This was very disappointing because Mr. Appiah is an interesting, thoughtful man and it was difficult to hear him. We then had remarks by David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, and emcee of the evening. The crowd was quiet (I was wondering how many writers there were in the room who liked or wished for/hoped for a New Yorker assignment), Shhhh.
The cocktail reception was held in the Rose Planetarium. People were just beginning to move up and across the museum to the Millstein Ocean room where the dinner was being held.
A view of the cocktail reception.
Then, Arnaud Nourry, Chairman and CEO of Hachette Live, the sponsors of the evening. M. Nourry has the presence of a writer and had thoughts to share. Then came the Presentation of the 2011 PEN Literary Service Award to Michael Ondaatje.
Followed by the Presentation of the 2011 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and Film. There was a problem through all this, with the sound.

PEN is a very important organization on the planet. The work of PEN among other things is to help free writers who are political prisoners. What is the mentality that requires confinement of another whose opinion differs? Yet this is not an uncommon choice among tyrants of any stripe or ilk.

Writers are not powerful as individuals; they only reflect. Their words are powerful when they are universal. PEN articulates that reality with its Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
Steven Isenberg, Executive Director of PEN. K. Anthony Appiah, President of PEN.
David Remnick of The New Yorker, emcee for the evening. Arnaud Nourry, Chairman and CEO of Hachette Live.
Michael Ondaatje, recipient of the 2011 PEN Literary Service Award Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate accepting the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for Nasrin Soutoudeh, imprisoned in Iran.
This year’s recipient was Nasrin Soutoudeh of Iran, a writer, a human rights lawyer and activist. Her award was accepted by Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ibadi.

Nasrin has been sentenced to 11 years for “propaganda against the state and conspiracy to disturb order.” You know when a government gets to that level of prosecution of its citizens, they’re desperate. Jailing Nasrin Souteoudeh for what she reports and says highlights the politicians' weakness. Too bad for Iran and its people.

It was a big crowd of several hundred last night. I sat between the two Honorary Chairs, Annette Tapert and Toni Goodale. Tina Brown was the other. I didn’t see her although I saw Sir Harry, her husband.
Ed and Sherri Rollins and Debbie Bancroft. Inger Elliot
Marie Brenner talking with Shirin Ebadi.
Toni Goodale and friend. Carl Bernstein.
Jim Zirin and James Goodale. Barbara Goldsmith.
Lynn Sherr and Debbie Bancroft admiring Inger's necklace which she bought in Paris.
Sir Harold Evans, center, and Susan Cheever. Paul Goldberger, architectural critic of The New Yorker, and Lisa Hughes, Publisher of The New Yorker.
DPC and one of last night's honorary chairs, Annette Tapert.
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