Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mild, sunny, slightly cold; lots to ponder

Sneaking a peek at the Fifth Avenue facade of The Frick on 70th Street 6:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012. Mild, sunny, slightly cold Presidents Day just passed.

This past Thursday night, I went down to Pier Sixty at the Chelsea Piers where Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-Cap) hosted their annual benefit honoring Michael McCarty (of Michael’s – need I say more).

The program was started more than 20 years ago by Richard Grausman, cookbook author, culinary educator, to promote and provide culinary employment opportunities for underserved youth. The word “underserved” has come into the parlance as a substitution of the formerly frequently used “underprivileged,” now a synonym in the world of philanthropy. Either way, the intention is more than honorable but effective. It is community taking the reins that somehow government and politicians are unable to do even with the billions available to them.
The entrance to Thursday night's benefit honoring Michael McCarty. Three pieces by Kim McCarty. The red is her portrait of Michael which hangs in the restaurant on West 55th Street. I noticed that the last time I looked, this print was bid up to $4000 by a very famous foodie.
The McCartys at the parties ...
The C-Cap Program started in 12 New York schools and now works with teachers and students in 165 schools in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Hampton Roads, Virginia; Chicago, Los Angeles and Arizona. Each year this program touches the lives of more than 12,000 students and 200 teachers.

The work includes teacher training, curriculum enrichment, college advising, career advising, and culinary competitions. Since its inception, C-Cap has raised more than $34 million in scholarships for students nationwide.

This was all new to me. I had heard that more than three dozen of New York’s best restaurants and chefs were participating. I couldn’t imagine how we were going to dine with that kind of menu.
The room -- everyone is listening to Richard Grausman open the evening. As far as the eye can see, and that's only half the room.
This young man, now a chef in Philadelphia, is a graduate of the C-Cap program and a very successful chef himself. To be a chef, he told the audience, makes it possible to go anywhere in the world and to have the pleasure of your work.
La Midler introduces her old friend, the honoree. The McCartys and von Haselbergs have been friends for 27 years. Not show biz friends, but Real friends. As you can see.
Poor imagination on my part. When I got to the venue, there were several hundred people, perhaps even a thousand filling the vast room right on the Hudson, with tables set up for every restaurant/chef to offer a dish from each menu. It was a celebration. Eating for Michael, it should be noted, is always a celebration; 24/7. His evening was also the biggest, most successful of the C-Cap evenings.  

We didn’t sit. There were bars offering wines, champagnes and water, and it was one enormous cocktail party where the chefs’ chef d’oeuvres were the main attraction. The Foodies’ delight, with live music and a million people to meet and talk to including friends and friends of friends. A Noo Yawk kinda night.
Michael's GM Steve Millington with his wife Meredith and her father.
Danny Divella, the PM manager of Michael's, with Steve. The honoree with his mother. You can see where all that smiling comes from. She's also the inspiration for her son's profession, bringing him up in a household where every weekend there was a lot of cooking and big dinners with lots of friends.
Bette Midler, Chef Waldy Malouf and Tracey Zabar, also a member of the C-Cap committee.
C-Cap President Susan Robbins, Michael McCarty, and Susan Grausman. Michele Ateyeh, a frequent Michael's patron.
Stanley Zabar and his daughter-in-law Tracey.
Steve Millington and Michael's Chef de Cuisine Kyung Up Lim. Michael's Pastry Chef Diane Carrasquillo and Sommelier Kasi Shelton.
Besides the seemingly infinite opportunities for “tastings” and more “tastings,” there was a fabulous silent auction designed especially to appeal the thousands of Michael McCarty type foodies. Nobody went home hungry or disappointed. Finally the goodie bag was from Zabar's so you-know-who was definitely not disappointed.

The honorary chairs were Bette Midler and Martin von Haselberg, who have been involved with C-Cap along with their longtime friends Kim and His Honoree-ness, Michael McCarty.

Make sure you don’t miss next year’s. It’s great fun, a culinary mother lode.
Colicchio & Sons. Potato Bavarois, Hackleback Caviar, and Vodka Cream.
Extra Virgin. Tuna Tartar Cones with Avocado Mousse and Pomegranate.
Blue Hill. Carrot Soup with buttermilk panna cotta, carrot crackers, and pine nuts. Telepan. Smoked Trout with Potato Bellini and Sweet Onion Sour Cream.
Beacon. Lamb Chops.
Michael's. Spicy Korean Tacos (kalbi braised short rib, pickled slaw, cilantro).
Gotham Bar & Grill. Maine Lobster Agnolloti, smoked mushrooms, salsify, xerez butter emulsion.
Barbuto. Completely vegetarian salad on top of toast.
An entry from another person’s Diary

March 2, 1969. Last night, to Paula (Laurence) and Chucky (Bowden), to dine with the Lunts. What a wonderful evening, to be with Lynn (“Lynnie,” as she is called) and Alfred after years of adoring (I don’t exaggerate) her. She is very old, but still has her beautiful, highly individual figure – the chin held high, the broad lids artificially lashed, the nacreous skin (so like Sargent’s Madame X). She came in tottering a bit, but she made this into a sort of wandering calculated glide, a sort of swing through a room (rather like Ellen Terry’s walk). When she saw the Sargent drawing of Ruth Draper, she said that Sargent was a great portrait painter but this drawing was the worst Sargent portrait she’d ever seen. “Ruth wasn’t a pretty girl. This is a pretty girl…” She slides her voice, which is quite high – like a high-pitched pale color, a rich lavender – and then falls an octave or more. Her lower register was always ugly – really unattractive – but she managed ....

Click cover to order or buy immediately at Archivia on 72nd and Lex.
She tells wonderful stories and suddenly forgets what she's been telling. One has to help get her on the central track, but it is all done with incredible charm and staging. Lunt is a great, genuine gentleman full of Scandinavian chuckles. He was delighted with the success of his modestly blue-and-white striped shirt, a departure for him, this coming to dine in a colored shirt. Lynnie was wearing a dress with white sleeves. Lynnie rang Paula up to ask whether the last time they lunched Lynnie was wearing a dress with white sleeves. Paula said no. Lynnie didn't want to repeat the dress, which she had sewed, every stitch of it, herself, and a beautiful dress it is. The choice of Lynn's words is so fantastic. She is so right about the visual things.

-- Leo Lerman
(excerpted from Teresa Carpenter’s New York Diaries: 1609 – 2009)

The mention of “the Lunts” grabbed my eye when I came to this page of March 2nds. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were major Broadway stars by the late 1920s, almost mythic legends by the time I came along to the city in the early 1960s. The Lunts were “theatre people” and New York was American Theatre. In the Lunts’ earlier era, screen actors were regarded generally as “not really actors,” or lousy. The Lunts were giants of the Great White Way, and their names resounded across America which they toured extensively throughout their long careers.

Although I never saw them perform, so I can’t imagine whom to compare them to, their image in the public consciousness was so great during their career that they personified American theatre with their presence. In the theatre world they were revered and the name repeated seemed to confer a certain sophistication on hearing someone say it. And they were even joked about in a most affectionate way.

I was once told a story by Eddie Moor, an actor who taught acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse when I went there in the mid-60s. It was about a performance during a 1938 show at the Shubert -- GiradouxAmphitryon 38, adapted by S. N. Behrman, a prominent and popular New York wit and playwright of the day. Alfred played the role of Jupiter and Fontanne, Alkmena.

Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt on cover of Life, 1949.
The original Playbill for the Lunts' Amphitryon 38, which opened Monday evening, March 7, 1938. The Lunts were producing partners with the Theatre Guild. Valentina did the costumes.
Fontanne’s costume was toga-like in which she wore no bra underneath. At one point in the script, as Alfred exited the stage to the wings, he turned to watch Lynn still onstage, and suddenly noticed that her right breast had naturally slipped between the folds of her garment, and was fully exposed to the audience, and she was quite unaware of it. 

So he began making gesturing motions toward her from off-stage: waving one arm widely, making quick jabs toward the right side of his chest with the other.

Fontanne didn’t seem to understand what he was up to, as she continued her part onstage. But Alfred continued wildly waving his arms for several minutes, stopping then starting again, as if in panic. It was to no avail -- Fontanne went blithely on with the show, delivering her splendid performance until she too exited stage right where Alfred was standing forlorn.

“Alfred, what were you doing??” she asked reproachfully in that voice Leo Lerman describes in his entry.

“Lynnie, your right breast is hanging completely outside your dress ...!!”

She looked to see, and so it was. Apparently unfazed, and returning it to undercover, she said to Alfred:  “Well don’t ever do that again!”

The Lunts’ dual careers (he was nine years younger than she) ran from 1922, the year they married – she was 39, he was 30 – to 1966. They were without peer as an acting couple in the theatre. It was a rarefied distinction in the fresh rich new American culture of the 20th century.

Alfred won two Tonys, was nominated for an Oscar, and received an Emmy. Lynn shared winning the Tonys as well as the Academy Award nomination.

Even before they teamed up together, Lynn was famous for her skill with high comedy and witty roles, and playwrights wrote with her mind. She won great acclaim in 1921 in a George S. Kaufman/Marc Connelly farce, “Dulcy” playing the “cliché spouting title role.”

A real, off-stage and in-print wit, Dorothy Parker, was inspired at the time by Fontanne’s performance as Dulcy to describe it in verse:

Dulcy take our gratitude,
All your words are golden ones. 
Mistress of the platitude,
Queen of all the old ones.
You, at last, are something new 
‘Neath the theatre’s dome. I’d
Mention to the cosmos, you
Swing a wicked bromide.
Leo Lerman going Oriental on the terrace of designer Bonnie Cashin, on the chaise with Gypsy Rose Lee, in 1957
Metropolitan minutiae. I learned only recently that the Lunts at the time of Lerman’s entry, were living in a house not far from where I was living, in Henderson Place and East End Avenue, and now only three blocks north of my apartment on East End Avenue. The degree of separation was never more than four blocks, although I never saw them. Such is city life.

Leo Lerman, not so incidentally was a famous figure in New York cultural life also throughout the last half of the 20th century. A writer, critic, editor at Conde Nast; a native New Yorker, friend to many in all walks of life especially in the arts – the theatre, music, Hollywood, literature and what today we call media, Lerman, a huge physical presence, who loved New York and loved people, was a popular party-giver, co-hosting with his longtime partner in life, Gray Foy.

The Man's version of a Memoir, and grand it is.
Their parties – held in Lerman’s Upper East Side house in the 90s and for many years afterwards in their sprawling apartment in the Osborne at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, the world came through their door – from Marlene Dietrich (with whom he had a long and active correspondence that cemented their friendship) to Maria Callas, Cary Grant, Jackie Onassis, Margo Fonteyn and Isaak Dinesen, and all types around and in between their worlds, including the dinner hosts in this entry, Paula Laurence and Charles (Chucky) Bowden.

Laurence was a popular actress and singer who starred on Broadway from the late 30s through the early 60s. Her husband Charles Bowden was a well known stage producer who produced Tennessee Williams’ “Night of the Iguana” on Broadway.
The above diary entry was originally published in “The Grand Surprise; The Journals of Leo Lerman,” edited by Stephen Pascal, was published by Knopf in 2007.

Voluminous with more than 600 pages of entries, photographs and recollections, Lerman’s life was a compendium of great New York characters and characters who passed through New York over that half century. The entries are often long and detailed and very personal as Lerman let it all hang out with candor and pursuit of his own truths.

I met him and Gray Foy briefly in Beverly Hills in the 1980s at the home of Jean Howard. It was uneventful but interesting, because I knew that these two men had a vast array of friends and acquaintances in the heart of the New York cultural world. As often it is in such situations, I learned nothing whatsoever about their world during our brief meeting.
Gray Foy sits alone in the living room of the apartment he shared with Leo Lerman at the Osborne on 57th Street and Seventh Avenue.
Although Leo Lerman was not especially tall, the effect of his size was this enormous man, with a beard and a cane and girth most smartly covered up with a bespoke double breasted jacket. Foy, however, was also not diminutive but about the same height, yet overshadowed by the size of his partner. Unlike Lerman, he had a thick shock of white hair that must have been blond in youth, and a very pale complexion, and a pleasant but quiet personality. Lerman commanded the attention. 

Leo Lerman died in 1994 at age 80. Gray Foy continues to occupy their apartment and occasionally throws a party in the same style which came before and has now just about disappeared from New York cultural/social life.
I took this picture coming out of Pier Sixty Thursday. The Frank Gehry-designed headquarters of Barry Diller's company IAC.

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