Thursday, May 10, 2012

Overcast, damp and pleasantly so ...

Tending to a terrace at The San Remo (between 74th and 75th streets). 3:00 PM. Photo: JH.
May 10, 2012. Overcast, damp and pleasantly in the low 70s, yesterday in New York.

Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha on this day 113 years ago. He started out in Show Business at age five, dancing with his older sister Adele (always known to her family and friends as “Delly). In short time they were a successful vaudeville act. Vaudeville in those days (the beginning of the 20th century) was like TV and movies today: big time popular, nationwide entertainment.
Fred and Adele Astaire, age 7 and 10.
The Astaires made the transition from child performers to young adults very successfully, becoming big stars on Broadway and the London stage. Delly, who was three years older than her brother, was always known as the better dancer.

When Delly decided to leave the business to marry Lord Charles Cavendish, the second son of the Duke of Devonshire, everybody wondered what would happen to “poor” Fred’s career as a single, never considering the obvious -- within a year or two, it was hello Hollywood and hello Ginger, and the rest is history.

The young brother/sister act.
The ultimate image of White Anglo-SaxonProtestant-dom, Hollywood style, Fred Astaire’s dancing style was profoundly influenced by the two greatest tap dancers of the 20th century: Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and John “Bubbles” Sublett (known everywhere as John Bubbles), who happened to be African-American.

There were always rumors among dancers that Fred had secretly had lessons from John Bubbles. Years later when he went to Hollywood, he met and worked with Hermes Pan who was ten years younger than Fred. Hermes’ dance influence came from the ghetto of Nashville where his “Mammy” often took him as a child. Seeing the men dance “the Shuffle” to “gutbucket jazz.” Decades later he recalled that the feeling, despite his very young age, was “almost sensual.”He brought that to his work with Astaire.

Many years later when the two men were in their late 60s and 70s respectively, Michael Jackson introduced himself to both, and sought their friendship. The two, Pan and Astaire, thought he was greatest popular dancer they’d ever seen. They also recognized some of their work in his steps. It became a mutual admiration society for all three men. Astaire and Pan believed that Jackson was Fred’s true successor.

I’ve been a big Fred Astaire fan all my life. In childhood, it was the style and the way he danced. I felt like I was dancing too. And so it has remained. I have since learned more about him because of a long book writing association with Pan, who had a lifelong close working and social relationship with Fred.
At ages 22 and 25, in 1921.
Fred in Hollywood. Fred and Ginger.
Fred and Hermes hamming it up for a studio publicity shot at RKO, circa 1935.
I met Fred and his wife Robyn one night at dinner at Edie Goetz’ house in Holmby Hills. After dinner we watched the film of Pinter’s “Betrayal” which was about to be released. Watching the film sitting on a sofa a few feet behind Fred and Robyn Astaire, I couldn’t help thinking that the “reality” on the screen was ironic compared to the reality in the room that night.

He was then in his early 80s and a rather quiet, if attentive personality, unlike the screen persona. This didn’t surprise me because I knew through Pan that Fred was basically a very serious, highly motivated, naturally dedicated artist and musician. He had warehouses of self-discipline. He also had a wicked sense of humor which he shared in common with Pan. A boyish-wickedness.

The two could lose it over some small matter. It would sometimes happen when they were watching a film together, or a performance. One might point out some idiosyncrasy in a performance that could set them off into gales of (muffled laughter).  This was also the secret, Pan believed, of Fred’s happy second marriage late in life; he and Robyn laughed a lot.
Adele Astaire dancing with Harry Evans during New Year's Eve festivities at The Plaza, 1948.
From the Collection of Lucius Ordway FrazerĀ©.
Yesterday was Michael’s. How could you forget? It was its natural, jumpin’ self. Among the Michael’s mob: At Table One in the bay, producers Mike Medavoy and Bobby Geisler with director Spike Lee. One table over, Agent Wayne Kabak with publisher Joni Evans and Wall Street banker Sallie Krawcheck. On one side of them producer Jeff Sharp with PR guru Peter Brown. And on the other side of the K-E-K table, Mr Phil Donahue in jeans and a leather jacket. And next to them Henry Schleiff and Stew Rosenthal.

Newlyweds Damon Mezzacappa and Katherine Bryan.
Jason Binn was hosting a table next to me. Bob Friedman was across the way. Ed Victor was lunching with Sir Harry Evans; Barry Frey was celebrating a birthday; Rob Weisbach with Jess Cagle. A young woman in a leather jacket and boy-short blonde and pink hair stopped by the table and said “Hi David!” I said: “Who are you?” “It’s me, Julie Macklowe,” she said. I should have taken a picture. The leather jacket was Balenciaga, I think she said. Maybe I’m imagining it. Julie was still partially in costume from Monday night’s Costume Institute ball at the Met.

Moving right along: Da Boyz: Dr. Gerry Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Michael Kramer, Andrew Bergman; lotsa laughs over there; Jon Meacham, Ramona Singer, Susan Zirinsky, Euan Rellie. Quest’s Chris Meigher was with Jim Mitchell.

Chris stopped by the table to tell us that Katherine Bryan was married a couple of days go to Damon Mezzacappa by a Justice of the Peace in Palm Beach. Katherine, who is one of the most beautiful women in New York, is also the mother of journalist/author George Gurley, and shares his sense of humor as well as his bonhomie. The marriage is not a surprise as the couple of have been seeing each other for sometime.

Meanwhile back at the ranch Brenda Starr was doing a lunch interview with Steven Stolman of Scalamandre; Tracey Zabar was lunching with Alexandra Trower of Estee Lauder. Also: Mark Rosenthal of Current TV; Nick Verbitsky, Beverly Camhe; Deb Huberman; Cathy O’Brien of Estee Lauder; Nancy Murray of Louis Vuitton; Sara Beth Shrager of Marvel; Stephanie Zernik; Tracey Jackson; Adam Weinberg of the Whitney Museum; Fernanda Kellogg of the Tiffany Foundation; Douglas Watts; Diane Coffey; Erik Gordon. Business is business at Michael’s.

Last night began with the book party Judy and Archie Cox gave for their friend author Jeffrey Lewis and his novel “Berlin Cantata.”

Click to order Berlin Cantata.
The book begins with the following quote from the New York Times, March 23, 1992: “The Jewish migration to Germany, like other strands in the history of German-Jewish ties, is taking place amid a complex web of issues involving emotional questions of memory and forgetfulness, destruction and rebirth, politics and personal fate.”

At the center of the novel is a country house owned successively by Jews, Nazis, and Communists. It is there that an American girl “seeks her hidden past.”

This is what I have been told so far; as I only met Mr. Lewis last night and I have not read the book.

Archie and Judy Cox live on the 49th floor looking east, west and north, as you can see. It was a very painterly light at that hour, a few minutes after seven with a heavy layer of fog hanging just above the city. Again, it is the kind of light that reminds me of the painter John Koch who was famous for his New York interior scenes.

It was a nice eclectic crowd: Muffie Potter Aston, Sharon Bush, John Hart, the producer of “Once” and “Seminar,” whose shows are up for 11 Tonys; Ghislaine Maxwell, Michael and Kim McCarty, Calvin Trillin, Lee Mindel, George Farias, Leslie Stevens, Jesse Kornbluth, Kay Eldridge, Lee Mindel, to name only a few.
On entering the Cox apartment on the 49th floor last night, just below the cloud cover.
Looking north, from the same vantage point as above.
Looking west northweat across Central Park. Those lights in the "grey" are reflections of the room on the window.
The author is a quiet-spoken man of modest and kindly bearing. He seemed awed by the reception that his friends the Coxes had given for him. In speaking to the guests he mentioned his hosts’ generosity and how honored he felt.

He also mentioned a second matter that to him seemed even more amazing: he had just learned that his host was the great-nephew of Maxwell Perkins, arguably the greatest book editor in American literary history. I share his awe. Archie Cox’ paternal grandmother was Maxwell Perkins’ sister.
Author Jeffrey Lewis, having autographed a copy of his novel Berlin Cantata for me. Our hostess Judy Cox with Muffie Potter Aston, who was going home to tuck her daughters in.
Archie Cox tells the guests about his friendship with the author and his wife; Judy Cox on the right.
Christy Ferer chatting with Lorinda Ash. Gayle Lewis and producer John Hart.
The Lewises and the Coxes.
The New York Calendar was bursting again last night. I happened to leave the party at the same time as Bettina Z and George Farias. They were heading across the courtyard to Le Cirque where Richard and Marcia Mishaan were hosting a cocktail reception and dinner for for The New York Stem Cell Foundation.
Richard Mishaan, Susan Soloman, and Marcia Mishaan.
Meanwhile, over at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Orpheus was hosting its annual Gala and Concert, “Bach to Brazil.” At Guastavino’s, Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York were honoring Robert B. Campbell at the Monsignor John T. Fagan Humanitarian Award Dinner. Proceeds will benefit Little Flower’s vast array of programs and services that support children, families and the developmentally disabled.

Over at the Plaza R Baby Five Star Food and Wine Gala with Tim and Nina Zagat was taking place. Ted Kennedy Jr. was speaker. While over at Tiffany they were hosting cocktails to “Toast the success of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Bunny Hop. And that’s only the stuff I heard about.

While up road at the Museum of Art and Design on Columbus Circle, Barbara Tober, MAD’s Chairman Emertia and Chair of the Global Leadership Council, and Chris Meighter (Quest) hosted a cocktail party and book launch of a coffee table book “Giving Back” by Meera Gandhi, with Foreward by Cherie Blair.
Barbara Tober and Meera Gandhi.
Coming up, tomorrow, Friday, at the Pierre: Leaders of the fashion world come together for the annual POSH sale, New York’s leading fashion fundraiser featuring clothes and accessories from top designers such as Chanel, Chloe, Derek Lam, Dolce & Gabbana, Judith Leiber, Eric Javits, Gucci, Hermes, J. Mendel, Jimmy Choo, Judith Ripka, Peter Som, Prada, Pucci, Stella McCartney, Todd Oldham, Brooks Brothers, Geoffrey Beene, Joanna Mastroianni, Tory Burch, Velvet Eyewear and more, BARGAINS, BARGAINS, BARGAINS. Really. 

Friday and Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm, Sunday and Monday: 11 am to 5 pm. Tickets $10. For the Lighthouse International. Tickets are available for purchase online or at the door. For more information, please call 212-821-9445 or visit,

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