Friday, May 18, 2012

New York thrill

Looking south along Fifth Avenue from 59th Street. 3:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, May 18, 2012. A beautiful sunny day, yesterday in New York.

Down at Michael’s Polly Bergen was lunching with Marc Cherry, the creator of “Desperate Housewives.” Coincidentally Polly and I were guests of Joanie Schnitzer and Irwin Levy at dinner the night before at Cipriani. The Schnitzer-Levys are in town for a few days from their Dallas-Houston dual digs.

Polly recently shot a small role playing grandmother to Chris Colfer (from “Glee”) in a film he wrote, directed and is starring in.
Polly Bergen and Chris Colfer.
She was persuaded to do it when Colfer, she said, told her he had seen her in a show on television in 1999 when he was eight years old (!) where she played someone’s mother. He was so taken by her that he decided then and there, that someday he was going to have Polly Bergen play his mother in a film.

Well, that someday came along, and so it was. Although the part was moved up a generation. Polly played his grandmother. She loved it and remains so impressed that the 8 year old kid knew what he intended for her career. So is everybody else.
Last night in New York. About six-thirty, I went down to the Colony Club where Gigi and Harry Benson were hosting a cocktail reception to celebrate the engagement of their daughter Tessa to Tucker Tooley of Los Angeles. The couple already share digs in the Palisades, and they’ve yet to pick the exact date -- which will depend on when’s best for their busy schedules. Tessa’s sister.

It was a beautiful evening. Some of the French windows were opened overlooking 62nd Street. They admitted the very slightest breeze. This great Delano and Aldrich classic, nearly a century old, retains its patina of  quiet grandeur.

It can evoke a flash of that “New York thrill” when you enter the large, wood-paneled room. At that early evening hour, with the reflection of the sunset pouring into the room, three generations of family and friends were visiting, chatting.  Several of the older women dressed smartly but more casually than the younger women who were all now stylish and just this side -- the young side of -- chic. The men were in suits. It harkened back to the New York I came to live in, fresh out of college and starry-eyed (and lost in Oz) in the early 1960s. This room was then already two generations old. Tradition. Or remnants thereof.
Tessa Benson and Tucker Tooley Harry Benson and his daughter Wendy.
Another great surprise was the appearance of the Lady in Red (and White), and the dark glasses. This is Heather Cohane pictured here with her son Alexander Cohane, the British antiquaire. Heather, who arrived on Wednesday, now lives in Monte Carlo. She is in town for a visit for the first time in more than a year. Heather, if I haven’t told you already, is one of my main connections with many people, even you dear reader. The back story is too long and labored to go into here but ….

I met Heather at a cocktail party twenty years ago this fall at the Chanel boutique on East 57th Street. I was first in New York again to work on a book for Bobby Short. I was staying with my friend Beth DeWoody who had brought me to this particular party.

Heather was publisher of a small Upper East Side magazine called Quest  which she started in 1986/87.  She was newly widowed with three children of school age and she needed find a way to make a living. Quest was designed to sell high end real estate. It was the first magazine to advertise residences with photographs.
Alexander Cohane and his mother, Heather Cohane, newly arrived from Monte Carlo Maria Cooper Janis and Sharon Hoge.
I already knew who Heather was when I met her that night because an editor here in New York, Larry Ashmead, used to send me copies of the magazine monthly. Larry knew the social historical content would interest me.

I told Heather that night at Chanel that she and I had a mutual friend – Gloria Etting, who lived in Philadelphia. Heather immediately asked me if I’d like to write a profile of Gloria. Yes. And so I did and thereafter wrote one, often two pieces every month for the magazine. The following year she asked me if I’d like to write a column. Yes. The New York Social Diary came into existence.

Heather sold Quest to Chris Meigher in 1996, and moved to Monaco where she is nearer to her three children, plus grandchildren, who live in Tuscany, Gloucestershire, and Monte Carlo respectively. She also grew up in Monte Carlo.
Mary inscribes a copy for Jamie Figg.
Onward. From the Tessa and Tucker engagement party, I walked a couple of blocks over to Fifth Avenue and a book signing for Mary McFadden and her book Mary McFadden; A Lifetime of Design, Collecting and Adventure (Rizzoli, publishers).

Coincidentally, there was a similar feeling to the room I had just come from, not only in terms of history but in the presence and style of the guests. Again, it was another glimpse, a la recherche. Sense memory; it was partly the weather, the time of the evening just before twilight.
Mary was seated by a window signing her book, a portrait in the waiting. Mary has a quiet presence. She always looks finished and dramatically impeccable. She is her art. There is nothing fatuous or exhibitionistic about it -- although she is exotic, but in her own way. She is very strong, very enduring. She lives on her own plane and while it can sometimes look or seem otherworldy, uh-uh, she’s right here, trust me.

I’ve known her for quite sometime, although never really well. But despite her quiet presence, she’s very accessible and easy to talk to. We run into each other often.
Edgar Batista and Margo Langenberg. Mary and her book. Click to order or buy immediately at Archivia.
She’s out a lot. She likes people, and meeting people and enjoying the evening, the places, the plots. But Mary is very serious. And very industrious, and very diverse.

This book is the evidence. It is a visual feast for the eye. The eye is what counts with her. The artist. You will be reminded, and you will be amazed at the timeless beauty this woman has created in her life You will also be introduced to her very old New York ancestry.

Mary is an art in action. She is always interested, and moving. Beauty everywhere. Exotic. Ancient, oriental, Indian; all Mary. I regret that I don’t have any images from the book to show you, because it is stunning.
Freshly blooming curbside garden on Fifth Avenue.
I left Mary’s party to walk up the avenue to the French Consulate where Paul LeClerc was being given the Legion d’Honneur.  I ran into sisters-in-law Gayfryd and Kathy Steinberg waiting for their friend Louise Grunwald to pick them up and take them to the theatre for an evening of One Man, Two Guvnors, which everyone says that can’t stop laughing at.

Again, it was a beautiful evening for a walk up the avenue. The trees lining the avenue are in full green as is the forest of the park across the way.

I noticed: there were the signs on the lampposts looking like they’d been recently posted. Lost Dog. 12 years old.

The poster.
Newly honneured Paul LeClerc and Judith Ginsberg.
This is very distressing. Dogs don’t run away – unless they’re frightened (and on the loose with no leash).

Dogs get tied up outside restaurants and stores while the master or mistress is eating or buying. People often come along and steal them. And never because they’re looking for a pet to adore.

Dogs left alone or without a leash are open season to the people who steal them for the money they can get for them. The people who buy them use them as Kill. Yes, it’s true. So protect your dogs at all times. Keep them on leashes at all times. Do not leave them alone on the street At All. If you can’t do that for yourself, do it for your dog, because he/she needs you. And they pay you well for it with their affection and loyalty. A favor we often don’t return ....

I was distracted by that sign. Coincidentally on the next block, I ran into Steven Aronson, the writer, who was walking his dog and talking to a friend who was with a little Maltese she had rescued from a shelter in Ohio the day before. We commiserated on the likely fate of the poor dog.

I made it up to the French Consulate at five to eight. The Consulate at 934 Fifth is the former Charles Mitchell mansion. Guests were just leaving. 

I attended a previous honoring for Elizabeth Stribling there last month. Again, the rooms of this former mansion also reflect an earlier time in New York and a sensibility now departed.

Paul LeClerc retired last year as President and CEO of the New York Public Library. Before that he had been President of Hunter College, and before that a professor of French Literature. He’s a man of a gentle, urbane enthusiasm, easy to laugh with friends. His wife Judith Ginsberg shares the wavelength, and so they are a pleasure to know.

His “honoring” drew a big turnout of friends and well-wishers, including Mercedes Bass, Catie and Donald Marron, Susan and Glenn Lowry, Elizabeth Rohatyn, Marshall Rose, Sam Butler, Kevin Kennedy, Kathy and Ace Greenberg, Lynn Nesbit, Stacy Schiff, Andre Aciman, Philip Pearlstein and Wendy Mark, Bill Zabel, Kathy Rayner, Cary Maloney and Hermes Mallea, Helen Nash, Helen Tucker, Robert Silvers, Adele Chatfield-Taylor, Evan Chesler, Joel Conarroe, Ann Tatlock, Robert Paxton, Robert Menschel.

Last month Paul was appointed director of Columbia University’s Europe Global Center in Paris.  

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