Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Sonny" Days

Looking south across the Great Lawn. 6:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012. Another beautiful autumn day in New York.
And forget a workable pace if you had to get around town. It is UN Assembly Week, or something like that with members of delegations from 100 countries in town for the convention.

This is the one where they cordon off two of the four lanes of 57th Street so that these 100 countries’ guests and delegation can get around quickly and conveniently. Tennis anyone?

Meanwhile everybody else must make way for these legions of unseen (tinted windows of course) visitors. In the evening you see the spinning red and blue lights behind or in front of a big black SUV with tinted windows.

Last night on my way home I saw my first limousine size SUV. I think a Cadillac. I could be wrong because I don’t recognize cars’ brand anymore with the exception of a couple. I looked twice to see if I were seeing things. No, it definitely was longer, like a limousine, although not a stretch. Massive. It had that feeling of “mine’s bigger” about it. It resonates; you get the picture.

Nina on the cover of Elle (France) in 1974.
No Michael’s for me with that traffic, I went down to Bella Blu on Lex and 70th to lunch with Nina Griscom who has just launched her own blog:
www.ninagriscom.com. And that’s what we talked about. 

Nina is the New Age socialite, a celestial-ite from Nouvelle Society.  That was her flaming youth; and a very glamorous and stylish and energetic youth it was. The word wouldn’t faze her but she doesn’t regard herself thusly, having left that long ago.

The New Age socialite in New York is a woman of a certain age who has been a card carrying Beautiful People person jet-setter tycoon’s wife BestDressedLister and is over all that (and even divorced and remarried or not). If you’re a reader of social columns and WWD, you’re familiar with all the names and even the faces. They’re sophisticated, worldly, industrious with myriad interests, and intentional with their decisions.

They were brought up or mentored by grande dames – or something along those lines – who came before. A generation ago, these women would have been on the retiring side of the life span – with their husbands’ reaching that age. They’d be contributing conscientiously to some charity or philanthropy, while running more than one residence, and playing bridge.  Those were the Ladies Who Lunch. The women of Nina’s world  do, or can do all that (if need be) and then they can also do some business, maybe even lots; husbands or no. Stay tuned.

Whoopi Goldberg and Sonny Fox after their "Conversation"
Sonny, surprised by the moment, has a reunion with his World War II buddy Lester Tanner.
Last night I went down to the Paley Center at 25 West 52nd Street, right next door to “21.” The event was a “conversation” between Whoopi Goldberg and Sonny Fox.

Sonny Fox. Many Americans in their 50s and 60s know him well. I remember the name from television. He was famous nationwide, although I never saw him on camera. He came to fame in the late '50s, early 1960s with a Children’s Show on network, and I was too old to have been a viewer. It was a kind of thinking man’s kiddie show. His idea: the children (who were the audience), were the show. It was called “Wonderama” and its influence extended into contemporary Children’s Shows. Although, as Whoopi pointed out, the children today are different; there isn’t anything they haven’t been exposed to.

The event. I was late, caught in the aforementioned traffic. They were already in discussion. Once a dark haired man (from his pictures), Sonny Fox is white haired. They were talking about his life.

A Brooklyn born Jewish kid who has had an extraordinary life and career, he is worldly, wise, sophisticated, yet down-to-earth charming in his manner.

In the foreward of his book “But You Made the Front Page!,” he writes:

“The experience of writing this book has taken me on the most complex and unexpected journey of my life – a journey … that finally brought me to the realization that my entire professional life seems to have been lived at the intersection of the impossible and the inevitable.  I was born when Calvin Coolidge was president, grew up during the Great Depression, careened through World War II, started in radio and participated in the growth of the television industry from its earliest days, and today I am involved with the production of a digital soap opera. I have lived through one third of the history of this country.”

And he’s still a kid. Well, not exactly, at 87 he’s quite mature in mind and authentically comfortable in his role as a public persona. Watching and listening to him and Whoopi was watching that kind of expertise and professionalism. They both are so credible and forthright. Whoopi wrote a blurb for the book: “Sunday morning as a kid meant two things: I had to go to church (I went to Catholic School) and I HAD to watch Sonny Fox and ‘Wonderama’' ... many of us were given so much by “Wonderama.”

During the conversation, Fox introduced three clips from the show, all charming situations with young children being engaged or entertained or expressing themselves. Fox was a master at bringing out the essence of their little (big) personalities. You can see how children had to be drawn to it because it was so respectful of them and their thinking.

The conversation also veered into the history of television and radio. Sonny Fox was literally born into the age of its development. His recollections and anecdotes about his experiences as well as the development of the media are fascinating and thought provoking.

There was a small informal dinner after the “conversation” on the 10th floor. All guests were given the book. Sonny Fox is tall and slim. He moves like a young man. His personality is youthful, almost tall and rangy boyish. When I got back to my desk getting ready to go to work, I opened the book just to see what it was like. Frankly I’m not primarily drawn to celebrity biographies, which is how I categorized this. Although having heard him speak and seeing his great  old-pro charm, I was leaning on learning. I had to put it down at page 30 because I had this Diary to get out.

This is an amazing book. This is an amazing man. You’re impressed by his ease and his style and his sympatico. He is an authentic example of a highly professional broadcaster. That is not to be confused with a teleprompter reader. The industry was built on his kind of professionalism the way movie studios were built on their highly disciplined and sophisticated creative energy. I saw it in last night’s conversation and then I saw it in the book.
Sonny conducting one of his interviews on "Wonderama" circa 1960.
Afterwards at the dinner a couple went over to Sonny to say hello. Suddenly he burst out his amazement and threw his arms around the man. I took the picture. The man Lester Tanner, a New York lawyer -- who is two years older than Sonny -- met him in Germany when they were both in the Battle of the Bulge. Last night was the first time they’d seen each other in 25 years.

This book looks like a celebrity book of anecdotes, judging from the cover. Ignore that. This book is the life of a remarkable man, a 20th century man of what Brokaw later designated “the Greatest Generation.”
If you don’t know about the evenings such as last night’s at the Paley Center, visit www.paleycenter.org.  Because it’s a very active organization in collecting all the material, tapes, films, videos, of the history of television and radio – the source of much of our modern culture besides being its messenger. I hope they video’d last night’s conversation because it was rich and thoughtful, while being interesting and very amusing.

Like Whoopi Goldberg, Sonny Fox gives  something to his audience. You could see it in the clips in his communicating to his audience of children, and you could see it last night in his audience of very much older audience (still children). Buy the book, you’ll see, and you’ll be glad you did.
Catching up. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a dinner party that Jim Mitchell threw for fourteen at Primola, that great Italian restaurant on 64th Street and Second Avenue.  Jim, who has been covering the New York and international scene for ages, always brings together an eclectic group of guests. This kind of list has become rare in New York at this stage. The guest of honor was Russian virtuoso pianist Lola Astanova who now lives in New York. A perfect spot, a superb dinner, excellent wines, a salad, a pasta, a veal picata and chocolate dessert.
Patrick Park and Chris Meigher. Tinsley Mortimer, Lola Astanova, and Patrick Park.
Tinsley Mortimer, DPC, and Grace Meigher. Giney Burke.
Maureen Donnell, Tom McCarter, and Frannie Scaife.
Maureen Donnell and Eva Mohr. Jim Mitchell and Lola Astanova.
More stars than in the heavens. Out in Hollywood, at the Bel Air Country Club there was a booksigning for Ellen Graham and her “Talking Pictures.”
Ian and Ellen Graham.
Shawn, Dawn, and Alexis Ryan. Eric Fugier and Rosemarie Stack.
Freddy Windsor. Ian Graham and Bebe Reed.
Ellen Graham and Giselle de Havilland. Rob Wolders and Shirlee Fonda.

Contact DPC here.