Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Burden in such matters

Hudson River. 3:45 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, May 19, 2011. More rain, torrential at times. I got caught in it on my way home in the afternoon. I had a big umbrella but so what, shudda had boots and a slicker, said stormy weather.
JH took an afternoon stroll along the High Line.
A sneak peek at Section 2 of the High Line, scheduled to open in June.
Michael’s was its Wednesday self; big time clattering chattering and everything else in between. The likely suspects among the fresh new and occasionally visiting dignitaries. Bill Rondina of Carlisle-Per Se lunching with Thierry Millerand; Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media with Pam Friedman; Patrick Murphy with Joan Jakobson; Katherine Bryan with Barbara de Kwiatkowski, Steve Mosko of Sony TV with Jerry Stiller; celebrating a birthday Jon Meacham of Random House -- Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, Richard Cohen and Tom Brokaw; Evelyn Lauder with Christy Ferer; City Councilwoman Christine Quinn with Jamie McShane (her spokesperson) and Jared Kushner; Quest’s Chris Meigher with Harry Benson; Tita Kahn in from L.A.; David Carey of Hearst with Lally Weymouth; Muffie Potter Aston with Cece Cord, Blaine Trump, Becca Thrash; Jeff Stone and son; Deb Shriver of Hearst with Maurie Perl of Conde Nast, plus Ann Janis and Dawn Bridges; Joan Budd with Ambassador Mary Ourisman; Vartan Gregorian with Helene Kaplan; Alice Mayhew; Sarah Medford; Stephen Swid; Michael Clinton with Dorothy Kalins; Joan Rivers with John Miller and people from WE-tv; Dawn Mangrum and Ann Rapp; Julie Macklowe et al; Loretta Ucelli with Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel; Ricky Van Veen and Jeremy Phillips; Trudy Styler; Rita Jammet; Linda Phillips in from Newport with the paperback of her dazzling novel To the Highest Bidder; moving along: Lisa Linden with Suri Kasirer; Jack Myers with Mark Lieberman, Bob Meyers; Aaron and Susan Fales-Hill; Miki Ateyeh and Jessica Gold; Gerry Byrne; Diane Clehane; Scott Singer and Rich Lukaj, Adrian Kingshott, Perry Sook and Tom Carter; Jonathan Wald with Jim Fenhagen; Wendy Millard with Pattie Sellers; Missy Godfrey; Rob Kenneally, plus all those I missed.
DPC and Wendy Burden at Michael's.
Many of these names are unfamiliar to the general public, but they are well known to their peers and in their professional worlds. And their work is far from unfamiliar in the corridors of power and the pastures of public opinion. Influence, media, politics, theatre, film, cultural affairs. Society, public relations. Agents, journalists, publishers. Authors, real estate tycoons, art directors, actors, entrepreneurs, and the bankers. All in one spot on 24 West 55th Street at the same hour in the middle of the week in May. This is New York.

I was lunching with Wendy Burden, author of a memoir Dead End Gene Pool, who is in for a few days from Portland, Oregon – which is her home now – where she is working on a sequel to her memoir with the working title Machinery of Love and Death.

A statue of Wendy's great-great-great-great-great grandfather Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, outside Grand Central Terminal, built for his railroads.
Wendy’s heritage is the Vanderbilt and (obviously) the Burden dynasties. A great granddaughter (by a factor of five) of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Her families’ great fortunes of the hundred years of New York between 1850 and 1950 carried mighty influence -- both financial and political -- in the nation, even the world. Here in New York their mansions dominated Fifth Avenue in the Gilded Age.

They were synonymous with the Industrial Revolution, the making of the metropolis, and building of modern America (as well as the consequent Labor Movement that gave birth to the great American Middle Class), now known as the American way of life and now threatened with extinction, thanks to their great-great grandchildren’s generation.

At the beginning of the 21st century with those powerful families having expanded into the hundreds, maybe thousands, in number, five and six generations later, those fortunes and spheres of influence have dissipated and diminished to naught. Wendy Burden calls it “the decline of my family,” hence the title of her first book. It is also the nature of history.

Her portrait of her family is modern American in outlook, as well as frank and candid. Like all of us. Her style is direct, like her personality. And it’s loaded with that innate self-confidence, no doubt genetically developed, that comes with her kind of heritage.

But what a ride it was to set down. Its story is garnished with her contemporary sense of irony of both life and love; Mother, Grandmother and Grandfather. Some regard her irreverence as disrespect. I regard it as an empathic view of the human condition which, rich or poor, remains steadfast.

Like a century ago, today’s corridors of power and influence
are afflicted with corruption attributed to chronic greed, sexual distraction and disregard of the boundaries of an individual’s privacy.

Arnold Schwarzenegger,
former governor of California and movie star; Dominique Kahn-Strauss, former director of the International Monetary Fund, are both accused of having been led into temptation, in some places known as the corridors of evil.
Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dominique Kahn-Strauss.
There is a lot of discussion as to M. DKS’ “guilt” or “innocence.” It is quite a sensation that a man of his (now former -- as of yesterday evening) stature should now be spending his nights in Rikers Island. There are believers and disbelievers. There are also facts, revealed or unrevealed, discovered or undiscovered. As usual, when the woman makes the claim, her objectives are questioned. Often even after the rape. That, or "the devil" made him do it. The "devil" being her, of course. Maureen Dowd in yesterday’s New York Times has a few other ripe words for such “questioning.”

Schwarzenegger’s fathering a child with a member of his household staff, all under the nose of his wife and children is the other sexual scandal du jour. Tracey Jackson in her blog yesteday morning had a few ripe words for that one.

Both situations are not new or unique but as old as the hills. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, for example, is believed to be the grand-daughter of a brief liaison between a maid in the country house of a duke and a handsome, aristocrat of the Edwardian Age named Harry Cust.
Harry Cust. "Ladies of poetic persuasion continued to meet him by moonlight and starlight and sunset, and those wonderful blue eyes kept on appearing in nurseries where they did not rightly belong. This was what his men friends called being 'deficient in will power.'"
The Honorable Henry “Harry” Cockayne-Cust was an Edwardian aristocrat, a member of the Prince of Wales’ (later Edward VII) Marlborough House set. Everyone, it seems, was just “wild about Harry.”

An editor, a member of Parliament and heir to an earldom (Brownlow) Harry Cust was also famous in his glittering circle (but not in the papers – different times, boundaries still intact), for cuckolding a duke or two including the 8th Duke of Rutland, fathering Ruftland’s “daugher” the beauty, Lady Diana Manners, later known as Diana Cooper, Viscountess Norwich.

Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister, now Baroness Thatcher.
Lady Diana Manners, later Viscountess Norwich as wife of Duff Cooper.
Neither the viscountess or the grandmother of a prime minister were thought to be the only evidence of his amorous (aka sexual) wanderings (or wanderlust). Ironically, the long-eligible, much sought after bachelor, finally married (a year after Lady Diana’s birth) to Emmeline Mary Eizabeth Welby-Gregory on the grounds that she was pregnant with his child.

Afterwards it was learned that she wasn’t. It was a trick – also as old as the hills – that only a woman can play. However, they remained married (and childless) until his death of a heart attack at 56 at his home in London in 1917, and it was said that he never strayed from their bed. Ever.

Meanwhile back at the Schwarzenegger residence, aside from the shattering of trust in a marriage, there are several children involved in this matter, including the child of this liaison.

All are being affected not only by the matter itself and what it’s done to their family lives, but by the grotesque publicity that they can’t possibly escape.

I hope someone near them is helping them understand that adults often simply behave this way whether we like it or not; and that it is not the fault of the children. It is not a new story in many families but the burden in such matters always falls on the children – innocent victims all and bearers of the future.

Whatever the outcome of both cases – Kahn-Strauss and Schwarzenegger – their fates are sealed by their own acts of lust and ego. C’est la vie, as the French would say. I don’t know how the Austrians put it but I’m sure it’s apt. Even in Hollywood.
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