Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Wednesday melee

The Lenox Hill Neighborhood House's annual "Spring Fever" fundraising gala last night at Cipriani 42nd Street. Photo: DPC
Thursday, April 12, 2012. Overcast much of yesterday in New York. And chillier.

Down at Michael’s it was the Wednesday melee. The Garden Room was entirely occupied by a private party given by the Getty Museum. In the front it was full up even more.

The drill. Around the room: David Sanford of the WSJ; Richard Watson, Arnold Aronson, Doug Band, Judy Licht with Nancy Silverman; Peter Mckillop, Walter Sabo and Sandy Kenyon; Richard Ader; Alice Mayhew; Gerry Byrne, Annabelle Weston, in from L.A.; Nikki Haskell, Steve Greenberg, Larry Kramer; Toni Goodale; Sam Greene; Chris Meigher; Jonathan Murray; Donna Soloway; Gena Smith; Alexandra Scott; Tom Rogers, Joe Armstrong; Brad Karp; Steven Rubenstein; Hugh Freund; Eric Shawn; Herb Siegel and Frank Gifford; Shawn Anderson; Peggy Siegal; Stan Neve; and Jack Myers with Tim Spengler. Jack’s been gone missing lately because he’s writing a book.

I was with Mary Horner, an old friend of mine whom I first met when I came to New York out of college back in the 60s. We met in what was a neighborhood bar called the Whiffenpoof (or “the Whiff” to its regulars) on 75th Street and Lexington Avenue. I’d been taken there by a friend who wanted me to meet someone who might help me get a job.
A look around town with JH ...
The Whiff was a casual bar and restaurant that was a hangout for journalists, press agents, actors, writers, most of whom lived in the general neighborhood. (ed’s note. The Whiff later was transformed into Mortimers and after that, as it is today, Orsay.)

Mary, who is a few years older than I, like me, came to New York out of college. She grew up in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. She’d been a “fan” of New York from an early age. She followed the theatre, read the columnists and dreamed of a New York life. In her earliest years here, she fell in love with the city because everything was so accessible. It was a place where you could live on $50 a week as Mary did. Really. For that she could rent an apartment (a walk-up), go to the theatre every night (if she felt like it), eat at great restaurants, patronize friendly bars and great clubs, and generally be in the thick of the bustling world of New York.

Mary worked at Seventeen magazine which was then owned by Walter Annenberg’s sister Enid Haupt. Their offices were in the LOOK building, home of the great magazine of its day and Curtis Publishing competitor of Life.  The legendary Midge Richardson was the editor-in-chief at Seventeen. Richardson had been a nun (Sister Agnes Marie) for a number of years from the time she was 18. However, she left the order, married a tennis star (Mr. Richardson) and became one of the legends of Madison Avenue.
In those days, the advertising/magazine/ radio/birthing television was the center of Mary’s world. Today there’s a popular TV show depicting it all (fairly accurately, according to Mary who watches it faithfully), called Mad Men.

I asked Mary about that. Was the show authentic, real? She said there’s probably more sex and drinking in the television version, but in retrospect, not a lot more. There was always someone in an office to who was having an affair with a secretary or a girl down the hall and a wife at home.

The biggest difference between reality and the TV show, she said, was The Women. In those days, there were many less women in these organizations. Few women outside of magazine editorial staffs, had executive jobs of importance and power. Women were mainly assistants, then always referred to as secretaries or executive secretaries.
The higher the executive post, the higher his secretary's ranking in the office hierarchy. As a result, there were important secretarial jobs, and in the magazine business, those jobs had perks that were prized. Like 8th row center tickets to opening nights or second nights on Broadway, as well a film premieres, concerts, all kinds of cultural and entertainment. Everybody always dressed for the occasions, men and women (and when present, children). Most women were well educated and very able. Many in New York made it a lifetime career, as did Mary.

As we were talking at table yesterday, Chris Meigher, my publisher at Quest stopped by with man who was his boss when he worked at Time Inc. I told them that Mary and I had just been talking about Mad Men and drinking in the office. Chris told us that at Time Inc., men, like his boss, had bars in their offices, and there were bar-carts that came around in the late afternoon after closing an issue, or maybe without closing an issue. Mary hadn’t heard that. Over at Seventeen she said, they went to the bar across the street.
There was much more nightlife in those days and people made a lot of friends. What we call networking today came naturally in those times because of the social life around the bars and restaurants in the neighborhoods where people lived or worked. I realized that my visits to the Whiff were motivated by that. It was there, through a couple of friends – Bob Edison and Toni Ermini, that I met Mary and a guy named Jim Shanahan who was vice-president of advertising and publicity at Loews Theaters. Jim was a hail-fellow-well-met guy, very popular with everyone and like most of his peers and colleagues, practically lived his job. He got me my first job, working in publicity at Loews.

Still on Memory Lane. Mary used to go to Michael’s when back in those days it was called the Italian Pavilion and owned by Bruno Caravaggi whose son Robert is the co-owner of Swifty’s today. Bruno also had a very posh restaurant where the smart set dined called Quo Vadis.
The Italian Pavilion, according to Mary, was  very popular with the magazine/advertising/radio and publishing people – not unlike today – but its interior was entirely different. The windows were well covered, the walls were dark, with leather banquettes that ran along the walls. There were also martini lunches at many a table.

Mary’s still a big theatre and moviegoer, as well as a big television and radio fan. She agrees with whoever it is that said recently that television today is much better than movies because the writing is better. They still have stories that are well constructed and often well-written. Movies today, Mary feels, are made mainly for children. (Of all ages.)
Last night at Cipriani 42nd Street, the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House held its annual Spring Dance, this year titled “Spring Fever.” I’ve been a guest at this party for several seasons. It’s always a nice party, black tie and always imaginative. The LHNH people – that is staff and supporters are the best of New York but there is something gemutlich about their united vibe. Maybe it’s because there is so much “heart” in their existence and what they do for their neighbors.

The honorees this year were Diana Quasha and Sydney Roberts Shuman, both of whom I’ve got to know over time. They too bear similarities of character and in their conduct with others although they are quite different personalities. Committed, devoted, but no fuss about it; friendly, congenial but seriously working for the cause, and with uninterrupted passion for the outcome, the possibilities.
Kirk Ressler and Diana Quasha. Anne Pyne and her daughter Elizabeth.
Sitting: Courtney and Gordon Gould and Gordon's mother Sydney Shuman. Standing: son Howard Gould and Stan Shuman.
The Lenox Hill Neighborhood House touches the lives, makes an impression on the lives of thousands of people every year, from infancy to late age. They are helpers – which we all need at some point or another in our lives. They do so many things for their neighbors as to show the world It Can Be Done. With women like Shuman and Quasha and the scores of other active volunteers along with the executives managing LHNH beginning with Executive Director Warren Scharf, (and Virginia Pitman who always keeps me in the loop news-wise), and the LHNH staff, they change lives, for the better.

LHNH changes them too. Last night Diana Quasha in receiving her award recalled how 20 years ago when she first visited the House on East 70th Street, she was living just three blocks to the west on Park Avenue in a world of grand domiciles and luxurious lifestyles. She was not naïve but she was nevertheless shocked to see the extreme differences in the lives of others right in her own neighborhood. That did it for her.
Bunny Williams. Joan Jakobson
Katherine Bryan and Clare Potter.
I think last night’s was the biggest of their galas, and no doubt the best fundraiser. The theme “Spring Fever” was executed by a Design Committee (this is their 15th year contributing) with Honorary Chairs Bunny Williams and John Rosselli. Design Chairs were Christopher Spitzmiller Michael McGraw and David Duncan. The results were spectacular. I don’t think I did them justice with my photography and digital, but it gives you an idea of the immense creativity and dramatic, witty, and lavish centerpieces that were provided by the following designers:

Adrienne Neff Design, Allison Hennessy Interior Design, Ally Coulter Designs, Angelica Gomes for Angelica Flowers & Events, Christopher Spitzmiller, Inc, Christopher Stevens, Dennis Rolland, Elizabeth Bauder Design, Etos, Fawn Galli Interiors, Harry Heissman, Jamie Herzlinger Interiors, Jennifer Post Design, Jonathan Berger Interior Design, Kevin Jacobs art + objects, Kristen McGinnis, L by Lenox Collection, Leta Austin Foster & Associates, Lindsey Carol Harper Interior Design, Marchesa by Lenox, McMillen (Elizabeth Pyne), Mr. Call Designs, Patrik Lonn Design & L’Olivier, Plaza Flowers, Roric Tobin for Geoffrey Bradfield, Inc. Stephanie Odegard Collection, Steven Stolman for Scalamandre, Thomas Burak Interiors & Michael Devine, Todd Schwebel, Tyler Taylor & Co.
Hugh Hildesley at the podium introducing Diana Quasha and Sydney Shuman (Tom Edelman, President of the board).
The Media partner for the evening was New York Cottages & Gardens NYC&G. and the evening was underwritten by Rolex Watch USA which has been loyally supporting Lenox Hill Neighborhood House generously for at least the last ten years.

So that was the evening. Not a lot of speeches, thankfully. Hugh Hildesley of Sotheby’s was emcee and a brief fundraiser of money to camps for children for the upcoming summer. Otherwise, it was an excellent dinner – main course rack of lamb. And dancing to a DJ right after.

I was seated between Wendy Breck and Mary Lindsay whom I’d never met before but who is the godmother of Sydney Shuman, the honoree. Mary, I learned was married to Gordon Lindsay, the brother of John Lindsay, the great Mayor of New York in the 1960s. His wife was also named Mary, and the two wives were best friends, although in the family John’s wife was known as “Mare.”
Sydney Shuman giving her acceptance, and Diana Quasha.
This Mary Lindsay has been a lifelong New Yorker – except when her father was head of a bank in Philadelphia when she was a young girl. Today she remains very active in city life including involvement with several organizations especially having to do with human rights and environmental issues. She is 92, and I mention it only because as I have seen more and more here in New York (and other places I am sure), people in their late ninth and early tenth decades leading very active lives and  doing something  to keep their brains fresh.

It was that kind of an evening; all that beauty and a lot of something to keep our brains fresh.
Some -- not all (came out as clearly) of the tables at last night's gala. A very festive room. The guy waving behind the porcelain swan was the Design Chair, Chris Spitzmiller.

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