Thursday, August 29, 2013

Stops along the way

Looking across the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir to the East Side. 5:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, August 29, 2013. Warm, somewhat humid, overcast and sometimes thundershowers, yesterday in New York.

I went down to Michael’s for lunch. Wednesday, the day and it was unusually quiet with none of the high decibel chatter that we usually get at Michael’s on any weekday, and even more on Wednesdays. Although very pleasant. The town’s deserted. Not so, of course, because this is New York – but there is a certain professional socio-economic element that has gone quiet anticipating this coming weekend, the Last of Summer.

I caught a cab home and quickly fell into conversation with the driver who told me when he picked me up at three that he was taking the cab back to the garage and heading home after he dropped me off. I asked him about business this week. “Quiet, very quiet,” he said. All August was, for him, unusually quiet. I’d been thinking the same thing but wasn’t sure it was just my perception. “Business is off  30%,” the cabbie told me.
Waiting out the rain in the rain in Central Park. Photo: JH.
Summertime in Manhattan is always quieter on the social scene because many depart for the resort climes of the Hamptons, Newport, the Adirondacks, Aspen. That’s not the majority of New Yorkers, but it is a large enough demographic that it shows up on the Upper East Side, Fifth Avenue, midtown.

Stops along the way; degrees of separation. Last night a friend sent me an email about having just seen the latest issue of Quest, and felt compelled to tell me how good it looked and how interesting the read. The August issue is the Annual Quest 400  List, and it’s mainly a List. We all love lists, admit it. They’re mindlessly interesting and easily dispensed with.  And although they count for nothing in reality, we still assign them some odd kind of demi-authority.

Gloria Braggiotti Etting, painted by her artist husband Emlen Etting, circa 1960.
This one I started nineteen years ago in Quest one month when I didn’t have or couldn’t think of anything to write about. I’d recently written a biographical piece on Vincent Astor, hence the “400” lists (which his grandmother the Mrs. Astor started back in the 19th century). Why not a new one, I thought. And so it was.

It all led me to considering those early days at Quest which I first wrote for twenty years ago this past March. The first assignment came about serendipitously. I was introduced to Quest’s founder and then owner, Heather Cohane at a cocktail party at the Chanel store one autumn weeknight in 1992. I complimented her on the magazine’s social histories and told her how Larry Ashmead, an executive editor at HarperCollins, used to send me copies when I lived in Los Angeles. I also told her we had a mutual friend, a woman named Gloria Etting who lived in Philadelphia. In hearing her name, Heather said, “oh I love Gloria. I’d love a story on her, would you like to write it?”

That question, in retrospect was a seminal question in my life and my future. I didn’t know that at the time, of course.

“Living proof that charm and experience will always matter more than money” was the headline in the completed piece.

Gloria Etting, who lived in Philadelphia most of her adult life, was brought up in Boston, one of several children of the socially well-connected (internationally) Italian family named Braggiotti. 
The layout in Quest, March 1993 of the piece I wrote about Gloria Etting.
I met her in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, and we became friends almost instantly. She was a woman who easily befriended people everywhere she went, and she particularly liked gay men. Ragazzi she called them affectionately, a term that Italians use for "kids." It so happened that her husband was also gay. From what I came to learn in knowing her, it was a terrible marriage emotionally but she stuck it out. Her sister Francesca married John Lodge who was a movie actor and then became Governor of Connecticut. His brother was Henry Cabot Lodge.

Gloria grew up with the Cushing Sisters (later Babe Paley, Betsey Whitney and Minnie Astor Fosburgh) in Boston where their father was the distinguished neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing. Gloria was a lifelong friend of the sisters, especially of Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney.

I think at the end of her life Betsey must have helped Gloria out financially because she was admittedly beholden to her. Although Gloria was also a naturally loyal friend. Therefore she could not talk to me about the Cushing sisters when I was working on a book about them. Although she once did tell me that "those girls did what they had to do."

Douglas Cooper and his adopted son, Billy McCarty-Cooper at Gloria and Emlen's summer house in Loveladies, New Jersey.
I first met Gloria at Billy McCarty-Cooper's house on Oriole Drive, in the Hollywood Hills overlooking West L.A. A fabulous L.A. house. It was built by a man named Peter Panaker who built several houses of the same layout/design. David Niven Jr. lives in the last one Peter built. This one of Billy’s was his biggest. It had a lap pool that ran the width of the house and extended into the master bedroom so that its master coud wake himself up with a few laps.

Billy had inherited almost all of Douglas Cooper's vast, premiere Cubist art collection. He sold a good portion of it on Cooper's death to Leonard Lauder for then a great price of around $26 million in the 1980s. That figure is arguable, but it was up there. It is the core of the great Lauder collection that he's giving to the Met.

Anyway, Gloria and I became friends in a pleasant but most casual way. I learned that she was one of those people who had a knack for befriending a great variety of people – artists, writers, actors, social people.  The list was endless. Henry McIlhenny,  Claudette Colbert, Truman Capote, Perry Rathbone, Isamu Noguchi, Isak Dinesen, (Karen Blixen), Jacques Tati, Tennessee Williams, Buckminster Fuller, Alexander Calder, Elizabeth Taylor, Tennessee Williams, Lady Sarah Churchill, George Balanchine, Salvador Dali and Gala, Picasso, Jackie O, Maxime de la Falaise, Martha Graham, as well as scores of people who were part of those different worlds these people occupied. The Philadelphia press wrote after her passing, that she was one “who gathered friends with the kind of passion others have for collecting stamps, art or butterflies.”

When I came to New York from living in Los Angeles, in ’92, we re-connected. I used to go down to Philadelphia to stay with her. Her husband Emlen was there but in his elderly sickbed with the door always closed. Like a ghost, I never saw him, but only knew he lay in the bed behind that door.

Philip Barry's famous play, then film, "The Philadelphia Story," was based on the life of Hope Montgomery Scott of Ardrosson in Villanova, Pennsylvania.
They lived in a three story brick townhouse (with brick sidewalks) on Panama Street in the section known as The City. Gloria, then in her mid-70s, entertained at dinner parties frequently. There was a very active, entirely social life among her crowd. They all traveled frequently, many kept other houses in other climates. They had lifelong friends but welcomed the newcomers. They lived lives of leisure and lives of work. One of Gloria’s best friends down there was a woman named Hope Scott.

Hope Montgomery Scott was the model Philip Barry used for his Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story, the film that cemented Katharine Hepburn’s career in the pantheon of filmdom.  Hope was in her late 80s when we met at a dinner one night at Gloria's. She had a disarming personality. A small, wiry woman, forthright in introducing herself, enthusiastically engaging, eyes almost twinkling in expressing her curiosity.

After that meeting she immediately started writing me -- befriending me. They were short notes to keep in touch. I was flattered and amazed by her energy. She was mainly a horsewoman who grew up on a huge estate, Ardrosson, built by her father on the Mainline with a house and outer buildings designed by Horace Trumbauer in the beginning of the 20th century. 
Hope Scott in 1929. Hepburn playing her a decade later in "The Philadelphia Story."
Hope, who was born in 1904, grew up in that house and on that property that is still there and famous. She had an effervescent personality that was still girlish (but not coquettish) at that late age, and a genuine liking of people. She also loved to gossip (almost on the edge of laughter in her telling). She was used to extra-marital affairs. She told me although she always loved her husband Edgar (who was still alive then too), she had had a few affairs including one with Jock Whitney, Betsey Whitney’s husband (before they were married). She thought it was all a hoot.

One night at dinner at her house (a smaller house on the property) I was surprised that the table napkins spread out on your lap were like smaller tablecloths -- enormous. They were ivory colored linen and they had a monogram in the same shade woven into the center.

I remarked about it to Hope: These are the biggest napkins I've ever seen, where do they come from?
An aerial view of the main house on the 1000-acre Ardrosson estate and the 38,000 square foot main house wtih surrunding stables and garages.
The entrance court to the house. It was said that when Hollywood was planning "The Philadelphia Story" they visited "Tracy Lord's" (Hope Scott's) house and found it so much bigger than their own model. Horace Trumbauer designed and built the house and it was decorated by Allom of Paris, then the leading decorators for the rich of that day. One designer remarked: "Think Buckingham Palace."
Ardrosson rear facade and interiors.
She said: “My grandmother bought them on her honeymoon in Paris in 1861.”  It was 130 years later and they were like new. After the dinner, she asked me to go into the kitchen to thank her cook “because she feels I don’t appreciate her enough, so just tell her how wonderful her dinner was!” Which I did. The cook was a much older lady, although most likely younger than Hope. She was washing the pots and pans when I went in. I introduced myself and thanked her. She thanked me and almost blushed with the compliment.

Hope was such a number that it makes me laugh to just hear her friendly voice in my mind's ear today. Gloria Etting, true to her character suggested I do a biographical piece on Hope whom she thought was one of the most wonderful women she ever met.

Alas I never did. She died only a couple years after we met. She died at 91. One afternoon she was in her stables when she was accidentally kicked by a horse she was tending to. It hurt and she shortly went back to her house and to her bedroom to rest, and get over the slam. And she died.
Hope show jumping in 1940.
Hope rides the bull.
Billy McCarty-Cooper died in 1990, of AIDS. He had come into Gloria’s life when he was a student at Penn. Somehow he ended up being invited to her dinner table. It was there that he met a man named Henry McIlhenny, a very well known Philadelphia art collector and socialite. It was through Henry that Billy met John Galliher, an international social man about town. Johnny Galliher introducd Billy to Douglas Cooper, the aforementioned Cubist art collector. Cooper, who was thirty or forty years older than Billy, eventually adopted him and made him his sole heir.

When Billy died – only a decade after Cooper – he left both Gloria and John Galliher annuities of $50,000 a year for the rest of their lives, explaining that it was their friendships that made his life possible.
The man dancing with young Hope (circa 1930) is "Bertie," the 10th Duke of Marlborough, father of Gloria's friend Lady Sarah Churchill, and her brother "Sunny," the 11th Duke.
Emlen Etting died in 1993. Gloria, then in her mid-80s, met a man about her age, an Italian – a real Italian, from Italy – more a working class man than Etting in his presence, although possibly a professional. He was not gay. And he was quite bossy with her, although she didn't seem to mind. She seemed happy to have him. She sold the house in Philadelphia and moved to Sicily with him. I never saw her again. She died at 94 in 2005.

Gloria was my start as a social reporter in New York. She was a lovely woman, very kindly with a kind of rusty voice and a noble head and sad eyes. Very Italian looking. And elegant. Once I was having some pasta she'd made for me in her kitchen. When she served it, I asked if I could have a large spoon to go with my fork.  She sat down with me as I began to eat. When I picked up the spoon to gather the pasta with my fork, Gloria remarked offhandedly in her kind, rusty voice and gentle tone, "It's not chic to use a spoon."

I loved that. I never used a spoon again. It's not chic. Gloria took photographs like Ellen Ordway whom she must have known because they traveled in the same world, although Gloria was a Roosevelt Democrat. Gloria had lots of photos she took of the Cushings Sisters at Hyde Park with all the Roosevelts. (circa 1935). All very homey and casual. Black and White. She took pictures all her life and kept them organized. The year that we met, she published a book of them, “By The Way,” with an introduction by Philadelphia Museum of Art director, Anne d’Harnoncourt. The subject is several hundred of Gloria’s closest friends, as well as others she met on her travels across the world.

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